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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.
Soon after the departure of the wise men, the angel of the Lord appears again to Joseph in a dream. This time however, the angel does not bring good news, but instead warns Joseph that Herod will soon seek to kill the child Jesus. Joseph is commanded to take Mary and Jesus and flee into Egypt to escape the wrath of the jealous king. The Egyptian border was about ninety miles from the town of Bethlehem and lay outside of the Herod’s jurisdiction. At the time, there was a large prosperous Jewish population living in the country. Egypt had become a place of refuge for many Jews fleeing Palestine. Heeding the angel’s warning, Joseph and his family fled to Egypt where they would live as refugees until Herod’s death.
Matthew however, sees the flight of Jesus’ family into Egypt as not only protective but prophetic. After recording that Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus leave Palestine for Egypt, Matthew writes, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matt 2:15). Matthew sees the flight to Egypt as the fulfillment to a promise made to the prophet Hosea some 700 years before, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1). Although Matthew clearly sees this text as prediction-fulfillment, it is interesting to note that the passage in Hosea does not point to the future, but to the past. Hosea is not explicitly referencing the coming Messiah but is instead referring to the nation of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. What should be made of Matthew’s usage of a historical reference in Hosea with regards to a Messianic prophecy? Why would Matthew make the association between the flight of Joseph’s family into Egypt and the nation of Israel’s exodus out of Egypt? What was Matthew seeking to communicate through his connection of the child Jesus to the Old Testament people of Israel? Matthew provides answers to these questions through the utilization of a specific biblical method of interpretation.
An understanding of the interpretative method of typology is helpful in answering these questions. In simple terms, typology is a method of interpreting people, events, or institutions in the Old Testament (ex. Adam, the crossing of the Red Sea, the sacrificial system) as a foreshadowing of future people, events, and institutions introduced later in the New Testament. In their book, ‘The First Days of Jesus’, Kostenberger and Stewart help to further define typology:
“Essentially, typology is bound up with a correspondence in history, that is, with a pattern in history that recurs, usually in escalated form. Underlying this view of history is the premise that the Jewish people, as well as the earliest Christians, looked to see how God had worked in Old Testament times to understand how he was working in the present and would work in the future.”
To understand the people, events, and institutions of the Old Testament typologically is to see these things as forerunners of a better people, event, and institution to come. Typology is particularly helpful to interpret Matthew’s usage of Hosea 11:1 in his account of the flight to Egypt.
Hosea’s reference to God’s “son” in Hosea 11 was not originally a reference to Jesus, but to the nation of Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel is called “God’s son” (Ex 4:22, Jer 31:9). In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel were the ones who would receive God’s blessing and through whom God would bless the nations of the world. This great nation is promised in God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and is inaugurated through God’s rescuing of Abraham’s descendants out of slavery in Egypt (Ex 3-14) and their deliverance into the Promised Land (Joshua 1-11). Hosea is reminding his audience of God’s special love for and redemption of Israel through the events surrounding the exodus from Egypt.
However, in this passage, Hosea is also making the point that although God has treated the nation of Israel as a son, the nation has rejected God and chosen to worship idols. “When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to Baals and burning offerings to idols” (Hos 11:1-2). Even though Israel had been redeemed from slavery and adopted as sons, the people had continually fallen into sinful idolatry. They rejected God’s promised blessing and failed in their role as agents of God’s blessing to the nations. While the nation of Israel had failed to live up to their role and responsibility as God’s son, the plans and purposes of God would not be foiled. Where the first “son” had failed to extend the blessing of God to the nations, the true “Son” would succeed.
In referencing Hosea, who references the exodus, Matthew is drawing a parallel between the purpose of Israel in the Old Testament and the purpose of the child Jesus. Just as he had in the Old Testament, God would again call his Son out of Egypt and through him bless all the nations on the earth. Jesus is the true “Son of God” who would inaugurate a new exodus from slavery to sin and ransom for God “a people of his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). The true Son, Jesus, would not rebel or resist, but would obediently carry out the mission of God through his sinless life, atoning death, and his resurrection from the dead. Matthew identifies Jesus as the True and Better Israel. The “Son of God” who would rescue God’s people (the Church) and secure for them a present victory and eternal hope. The testimony of the Spirit of God through Matthew and Hosea speaks to the faithfulness of God throughout all generations in the coming of Jesus Christ. He is the focal point of all Scripture and has come to redeem God’s people from their enslavement to sin.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you?’ Or again ‘I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son?’ And again, when he brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” (Hebrews 1:1-6).
Kostenberger & Stewart, The First Days of Jesus, pg. 80