Matthew 2:13 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.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 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.”
This instance of fulfilled prophecy comes on the heels of the story of the wise men. This particular revelation from Matthew has caused many to believe that old testament prophecy was reinterpreted by the new testament authors. If you look back at what Hosea wrote, it seems that Hosea understood his own prophecy to be solely about the nation of Israel. Yet here is Matthew stating that “My Son” being called out of Egypt was fulfilled in the person Jesus Christ (being the Son of God) when He was called out of Egypt after a brief stay as a young boy.
This is a serious passage of scripture and the way in which this prophecy is quoted has serious ramifications. If Matthew reinterpreted an old testament passage, do we have the authority to reinterpret other old testament passages? Does Matthew bring out an aspect of this passage that simply could not have been understood before its fulfillment? Was there a deeper meaning in Hosea’s prophecy that Hosea himself did not understand?
Matthew the tax collector was not formally schooled the way the scribes and Pharisees were. Matthew approaches prophecy from a completely different viewpoint. Yet here is this common tax collector putting all the scribes and Pharisees to shame as one of the chosen twelve. In the same way, I believe a simple way of looking at fulfilled prophecy can put to shame many of the schools of thought of our day as well. Matthew only has a very little that will help us beside the actual quotation of the prophecy. In the same wording as Matthew 1:22, Matthew attributes the prophecy as spoken by the LORD, but acknowledges the role of the prophet. He doesn’t use this wording in every instance, but it is worth noting here.
Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
The majority of the book of Hosea depicts Israel as a female personage. Hosea was commanded to take a prostitute for his wife which caused him no end of heartache, Hosea 1:2-3. The problem was that his wife did not cease to be a prostitute after their marriage. She continued to sleep with other men forcing him to literally purchase his wife to be with him, Hosea 3:1-3. This reality in the life of Hosea was a picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the God of Israel. So here stands heartbroken Hosea with a glimpse of what it is like to have the heart of God toward the nation of Israel. While all of this seems rather depressing, God gives hope to the prophet by showing him that one day He will have a restored relationship with the nation of Israel. Like a husband and wife in perfect harmony, so Israel will be forgiven, faithful, and children of God, Hosea 14:1-2, 2:20, 1:10. The picture of a prostitute is not the only metaphor that Hosea employs throughout his prophecy. He describes Israel as a stubborn calf, 4:16, a silly dove, 7:11, a wild donkey, 8:9, wild grapes, 9:10 [with Isaiah 5:17], first fruits in a fig tree, 9:10, and an emptied vine, 10:1. In Hosea 11:1, for only one verse, God terms Israel as a male youth, and then as His own son.
Later in Hosea’s prophecy, God is recounting the history between Him and His chosen people. In three key passages God uses metaphoric language to describe what has transpired. In Hosea 9:10 God says He “found” Israel in the wilderness at the time when first fruits should be found on a fig tree (see Mark 11:12-14). Instead of dedicating the first fruits to God (same word as in Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Leviticus 2:12, 23:10, Deuteronomy 18:4, 26:2, 10), they dedicated themselves to Baal-peor, which incidentally was taking foreign women [who worshiped other gods] as their sexual partners, Numbers 25, Revelation 2:14. The second passage is the prophecy in question. When Israel was a child, then God loved him and called His Son out of Egypt. It remains unclear whether the passage is talking about Israel the man, meaning Jacob, or Israel the nation, or some combination. We will pick up this discussion in the next section. The third passage addresses the subject just mentioned. In Hosea 12: 3-4, and even including verses 12-13 in the discussion, we see that God addresses the nation of Israel as Jacob. Then there is a shift to the man Jacob describing several events in his life including: how he grabbed his brother’s heel in the womb which is linked to how he wrestled with the angel of the LORD which led to finding God at Bethel; also fleeing into the country of Syria, and serving for a wife by keeping sheep, see Genesis 25:26, 32:24-32, 28:10-22, 31:13, 35:1-15, 27:43, 29:18. Immediately after this Hosea states that it was by a prophet that Israel, meaning the nation [or perhaps Israel the man through his progeny] was brought out of Egypt. Notice the transition in this passage in the use of the word Israel. It is the man and the nation bound up in one.
Definitions of Israel
This leads us into the different uses of the term Israel. First, there is the man Israel, formerly known as Jacob, Genesis 46:1-2, 48:2, 8-22. Next, there is the physical offspring of the man Israel, many times known as the children of Israel, Exodus 4:31-5:2. There is also the nation of Israel, meaning all who lived in the land after it was conquered by Joshua, Joshua 23:1. This would include children of Israel but also others who had joined themselves to the children of Israel by way of participating in the covenant, Leviticus 19:33-34, Joshua 9, I Chronicles 20:1-3. During the days of the divided kingdom the term Israel was applied to the northern kingdom as opposed to the southern kingdom which was termed Judah, I Kings 15:25-26, and this is the primary usage in the book of Hosea. Finally, the term Israel is applied to the believing remnant within the nation of Israel, Numbers 23:21, Romans 9:6, 27-29 with Isaiah 1:9, 10:22-23. Romans 11:1-7 gives the clearest language in explaining this mystery.
There is one other usage of the term Israel which cannot be overlooked for this discussion. Israel can be a Messianic term, especially in Isaiah’s prophecy concerning His servant, meaning the suffering servant of Isaiah. The term Israel is used in Isaiah 41:8 and 49:3 stating that Israel is “My servant”. Yet throughout this passage the servant is the Messiah who will come in a meek and mild way thereby winning the Gentiles, Isaiah 42:1-4. He will also be given as a covenant to restore Israel and give light to the Gentiles, Isaiah 49:6-8. He will also suffer and die bearing their iniquities, Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Yet there is a plurality to this Israel which must be the nation, see Isaiah 43:1-10, 45:17, 20-25. So the servant Israel is the Messiah; but the servant Israel is also the people of Israel. We don’t have to choose between the two in these prophecies. The application is clearly to both.
The Son of God
The term Son of God in the law, psalms, and prophets has a couple of different applications as well. The first instance in scripture that I can see where God has a son is in Exodus 4:22 in reference to the nation of Israel. This is not just metaphoric language. Israel truly is the firstborn son of God, even if we don’t completely understand this. Later we find that the firstborn son of God is language to describe the future Davidic Messiah, see Psalm 89:26-27, see also Colossian 1:15, 18. The reason why this term applies to both is because God sees them from His eternal perspective. Their destinies are essentially one. Israel and the Messiah are intertwined in a such a way that they will be united forever. This is the way the writer to the Hebrews saw these scriptures as well. He writes, “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one,” Hebrews 2:11. The writer then quotes three scriptures to show how the Messiah and His people are united in the prophecies.
When we come to Hosea 11:1 and we see that Hosea words the prophecy as Israel and my son, it should not be considered foreign to the passage to say that this would apply to the future Messiah. In fact, when the term Son is used here, the idea of the Messiah must be seriously considered by any student of the word. It does not have to be either/or. The term Israel my servant refers both to the nation of Israel and the Messiah. So the term Israel my Son does not have to be either/or. This is the way that Matthew saw the passage. When Hosea spoke of Israel and prophesied against her sin, he was obviously referring to the nation, specifically the northern kingdom headed by Samaria, Hosea 8:5-6. But in this one verse when Hosea makes the switch to use that term in reference to the Son of God, the idea of the Messiah was clearly conveyed to Matthew and to us as well thanks to his insight.
Does Matthew reinterpret Hosea? No. Did Hosea understand that he was prophesying of the Messiah? We cannot know what was in the mind of Hosea. Does Matthew bring out a deeper meaning from the passage? If by this question one means, “Does Matthew bring out an unintended meaning from the passage?” the answer is no. But if one means, “Does Matthew make the original intention of Hosea clearer by quoting this passage?” then the answer is yes. We have a deeper understanding of the prophets because of Matthew’s insight. Could a student of the prophets have known beforehand that the Messiah would physically dwell in Egypt and be called out from there? It would have been possible based on an overall study of passages like Exodus 4:22, Psalm 89:26-27, Psalm 2:6-12. However, it was much easier for Matthew to see it fulfilled in hindsight. Without this inclusion in the Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy, there may be some doubt as to whether Hosea 11:1 applies to Jesus Christ. Thanks to Matthew, there is no doubt.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman