Matthew 2:14-15 – How could Matthew quote Hosea as a “fulfillment” of Jesus, when Hosea was referring to the nation of Israel?

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matt 2:14-15)

Problem: Hosea 11:1 reads: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” However, Matthew quotes this passage as though Jesus was the fulfillment. Critics argue that Matthew was pulling this passage out of its context. Had Matthew bothered to read the beginning of the verse, he would have seen that this was about the nation of Israel—not the Messiah. Thus in his article “Matthew Twists the Scriptures,” critical scholar S.V. McCasland writes, “The interpretation of Hosea 11:1 not only illustrates how early Christians found a meaning entirely foreign to the original; it may also show how incidents in the story of Jesus have been inferred from the OT… [This] indicates how desperately early Christians searched the Scrip­tures to find proof for the things happening among them.”[1] Is this the case?

Solution: Imagine if Matthew was deceitfully handling the OT, as these critics claim. He must have had a very short term plan of spreading Christianity! Can we really believe that Matthew was quoting this passage hoping that no one would ever check the original context? Instead, rabbis would often quote part of a verse assuming that their readers knew the entire chapter or book. With this in mind, a number of points can be made.

First, instead of quoting the Greek translation of the OT (LXX), Matthew quotes the original Hebrew. The LXX translates “son” as “children,” which was a poor translation of the original Hebrew.[2] Even though the LXX was a common translation in his day, Matthew knew that this was not a proper translation.

Second, Matthew saw many similarities between Jesus and Israel. Carson writes, “The exodus event was regularly seen in the rabbinic literature as a type of the salvation of the messianic age to come (see Str-B 1:85–88). However, there are no extant Jewish uses, before or after the first century, that explicitly link Hos. 11:1 with this typology or suggest that it was ever understood as explicitly messianic.”[3] Thus, Matthew saw a fulfillment in the sense that Jesus performed what Israel did not:

  1. A Pagan king killed all of the babies to destroy Israel (Ex. 1:15ff) and Jesus (Mt. 2:16-18).

  2. When Israel was young, it went into Egypt (Gen. 46-47). Moses went into Egypt (Ex. 4:19ff). And, Jesus went into Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15).

  3. Israel was called out of Egypt and so was Jesus (Ex. 3; Mt. 2:21).

  4. Moses—a type of Christ—came back after the bloodthirsty king died (Ex. 4:19). So did Jesus (Mt. 2:20).

  5. God gave his law to the Jews on Mount Sinai, and Jesus gave his sermon on the law on a mount (Mt. 5-7).

  6. Israel crossed the Jordan River (Josh. 3:14ff), and Jesus was immersed in the Jordan River (Mt. 3:13-15).

  7. God called both Israel and Jesus the son of God (Ex. 4:22; Mt. 1:21, 23; 3:17). Later, the term “son” refers to the final messianic leader of the Jewish people (Ps. 2:7).

  8. Israel was tested for 40 years in the wilderness, and Jesus was tested for 40 days.

  9. While being tempted in the desert, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy three times. Deuteronomy was the book that was written at the end of the wandering in the desert.

  10. In Hosea’s time, God goes to great lengths to preserve Israel during their exile (Hos. 1:10-11; 2:16-23; 3:4-5; 6:1-3; 11:1-11; 14:1-9). In the same way, God preserves Jesus during this time (Mt. 1:20; 2:13-18).

Third, typically, God explained future deliverance in terms of past deliverance. In Hosea 11, God uses the Exodus as a parallel for how he is going to rescue the Jews. Earlier in Hosea, he uses the same language of the Exodus to explain God’s future deliverance (Hos. 2:14). In Hosea, Israel was being exiled for faithlessness, but God calls them out of exile, because of his faithfulness. Hosea later equates the exile in Assyria with the exile in Egypt (Hos. 11:5). Egypt functioned as a symbol for bondage and the faithfulness of God pulling people from bondage (Hos. 8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:3-5; 12:13). Both Matthew and Hosea are not emphasizing the historical details so much as they are emphasizing the historical love of God, rescuing people from bondage.

Fourth, Matthew points out the parallels to show that Jesus is accomplishing what Israel couldn’t. Jesus was the faithful remnant of one. God is calling Jesus out of exile to permanently end the exile for Israel. Matthew is picking up on the prophecy that God would deliver his people through the Messiah in a future and final exodus (Is. 11:16). This has not happened, yet. But, Jesus will inaugurate this in his second coming. In fact, Isaiah predicted that this exodus would even include Egypt itself (Is. 19:19). Therefore, when Matthew says Jesus “fulfilled” this passage, he wasn’t thinking in terms of one to one correspondence. Carson writes, “The verb ‘to fulfill’ has broader significance than mere one-to-one prediction… ‘Fulfillment’ must be understood against the background of these interlocking themes and their typological connections.”[4] For instance, see this usage in Revelation 3:2.

 

[1] S.V. McCasland, “Matthew Twists the Scriptures,” JBL 80. 1961. 143-48.

[2] Kaiser, Walter C. The Uses of the Old Testament in the New. Chicago: Moody, 1985. 47.

[3] Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (7). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.

[4] Carson, D.A. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New Internation Version. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984. 92.

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