A Greater Israel and a Greater Exodus

The Use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15

Editor's Note: This article is the second of two in a series on St. Matthew's use of Hos 11:1 in Matt 2:15. The first article, “Out of Egypt I called My Son”, examines the same issue from the perspective of biblical theology.

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” (Matt 2:13–15 ESV).

The New Testament (NT) use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 has significant hermeneutical and theological implications. The obvious interpretive problem with this NT use of the Old Testament (OT) is that Hosea seems to refer to God’s past deliverance of Israel from Egypt, yet Matthew takes the words of Hosea and proclaims that they were prophetically written of Christ. Is Matthew taking hermeneutical license to use the OT however he wishes, or is this Hosea passage truly prophetic in nature? Taking the time to gaze deeper into this NT use of the OT is truly rewarding. Hermeneutically, it is an example of typological prophetic fulfillment. Theologically, it offers insight into the nature and role of Jesus. First, it is helpful to establish each of these passages in their OT and NT contexts.

Context of Hosea 11:1

In Hosea 11, God recounts his call of Israel out of Egypt (11:1). This is a direct reference to when God redeemed Israel, his “firstborn son,” out of slavery in Egypt (Exod 4:22; 12:51). However, despite this and God’s continual love and care for Israel, Hosea notes that Israel continually rebelled against God by turning to other gods (11:2–4). In response, God proclaims that Israel shall suffer judgment because of her refusal of him (11:5–7), yet he also ensures that he will ultimately have compassion on Israel and call her once again out of not only Egypt but other nations as well (11:8–11). Indeed, Hosea alludes to a second and greater exodus here. This is quite consistent within the rest of Hosea (7:11, 16; 8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:5) and the greater OT context (Isa 11:15–16; 12:2,4–6; cf. Exod 15:1).[1]

Context of Matthew 2:15

The NT passage at hand falls in the context of Matthew’s description of the events following Christ’s birth. Specifically, Matthew describes Joseph fleeing to Egypt with Mary and the child, Jesus, to escape the jealous wrath of Herod (Matt 2:13–17). Matthew notes that after the death of Herod, God sent an angel to call the family to return from Egypt (2:20). This calling is the actual fulfillment that was alluded to in v. 15. Matthew’s purpose with this portion of the narrative is to authenticate Jesus as the promised Messiah and suffering servant whose life is fulfilling and will fulfill the OT prophecies and the Law so as to deliver his people from out of the nations. He makes this apparent by noting several other aspects pertaining to Jesus’s birth that fulfilled OT prophecies (1:1–17; 22–23; 2:4–6, 17–18). Further, Matthew continues to emphasize Jesus’  fulfilling role in the greater context of his synoptic, specifically the beginning of his ministry.

First, following the birth narrative of Christ, Matthew describes the ministry of John the Baptist, specifically noting John’s fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Isaiah (3:2–3; cf. Isa 40:3). Further, Matthew describes the baptism of Jesus immediately after which the Spirit of God descends and rests on him like a dove and a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:13–17). Interestingly, in this description Matthew is again showing Jesus to fulfill OT prophecy, specifically Isa 42:1: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (emphasis mine).[2] Second, Matthew describes Jesus overcoming temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1–11). Again, Matthew is showing Jesus fulfill the role that Israel failed to, namely maintaining absolute faithfulness to God in the midst of temptation in the wilderness. Jesus walked the road Israel did not and could not (Deut 9:22–24; Ps 78:1–41, especially vv. 40–41). Third, Matthew notes that Jesus’s living in Capernaum was to fulfill the words spoken by Isaiah in Isa 9:1–2 (Matt 4:13). Fourth, Matthew shows Jesus to fulfill the Law in his teaching (Matt 5–7). It is in this immediate context of the Sermon on the Mount that Matthew records Jesus’ own attestation that his coming was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (5:17–20).

Indeed, the overwhelming sense at the beginning of Matthew’s synoptic, the immediate context of Matthew 2:15, is that Matthew is establishing Jesus to be the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets. Moreover, Matthew ends his narrative of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection by recording one of the most familiar commandments in all of Scripture, the Great Commission (28:16–20). Here, Jesus instructs his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (28:19). With this immediate and greater context in mind, we can see what Matthew is specifically suggesting when he proclaims the fulfillment of Hos 11:1 in Jesus being called out of Egypt.

Matthew’s Hermeneutic

Hermeneutically, the NT’s use of Hos 11:1 is a typological prophetic fulfillment. What this means is that Hosea is indeed referring to Yahweh’s past redemption of Israel out of Egypt; however, as noted in the OT context, it is with a view to a second exodus that he and other OT prophets anticipated.[3] This suggests that Hosea understood the first exodus itself to be a type of a second, greater exodus that was to come. Matthew’s hermeneutic is consistent with Hosea’s prophecy and the greater OT corpus.[4]

Matthew’s use of Hos 11:1 identifies Jesus with Israel by understanding him to be God’s son (which he affirms in Matt 4:1–11); however, in Hos 11:1 Israel is God’s son.[5] Matthew’s ultimate purpose in his use of Hos 11:1, then, is to present Jesus as the greater Israel. As noted, Matthew is presenting Jesus as fulfilling the Prophets and the Law. He does this in 2:15 by proclaiming Jesus to be the greater Israel, who, like the nation Israel, is described as God’s son (Matt 2:15, cf. Hos 11:1) and God’s chosen servant (Matt 3:13–17, cf. Isa 41:8–9, 42:1). However, Matthew reveals that Jesus proves faithful to God where Israel failed (Matt 4:1–11, cf. Deut 9:22–24 and Ps 78:1–41) and fulfills the Law that Israel could not (Matt 5:17–20, cf. Josh 24:19; Rom 9:31). All this Matthew also observes with a view to the second, greater exodus (Matt 28:16–20).

Outside of Hosea, Matthew’s hermeneutic in regard to Jesus as the greater Israel and the leader of the greater exodus resonates perfectly with the OT, which anticipates this very reality. We look at one example from the OT that captures the heart of Matthew’s hermeneutic.

Israel Will Deliver Israel and the Nations

The anticipation of a greater Israel appears in Isa 49:1–6 and specifically within a redemptive context. Here, God’s servant, Israel (Isa 49:3) will “bring Jacob back … that Israel might be gathered” to himself (Isa 49:5, emphasis mine). However, Israel will not only deliver Israel. According to Isa 49:6, this greater Israel will deliver nations: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Assuredly, the OT itself prophesies of a greater Israel coming to deliver Israel and the nations.

Matthew’s interpretation that God’s calling of Jesus out of Egypt fulfills Hos 11:1 is a completely natural one given the immediate context in Hos 11, which anticipates a future redemption of Israel from the nations, and the greater OT context, which anticipates the deliverance of the nations by a greater Israel. Further, in light of this hermeneutic, Matthew not only identifies Jesus corporately with Israel, but also as the promised deliverer of Israel and the nations.

Theological Implications & Conclusion

This NT assertion of typological fulfillment contributes theologically to our understanding of the nature of Jesus and salvation. Jesus is corporately identified with and thus representative of Israel and ultimately Adam. However, he is also the son of God and the LORD who leads a second, more glorious exodus. By his obedience—an obedience the nation Israel did not achieve—Jesus obtained righteousness for God’s people and brings or, better, exoduses them from a kingdom of darkness to a kingdom of light (Rom 5:19; Col 1:13). In this exodus he calls not just those who are ethnic Israel, but his people from all nations (Hos 10:10–11; Isa 49:1–6). Of course Matthew knew what he was writing when he proclaimed Jesus’s life to be fulfilling the words of the prophet Hosea. He, like the prophets of the OT, was carried along by the Holy Spirit and given insight into the ultimate reality of God’s redemptive plan. Jesus is the greater Israel called out of Egypt to live the life they and humanity could not and to ultimately deliver his people from all nations in a second and more glorious exodus, for our joy and God’s glory.

[1] Scripture references for Hosea taken from G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 61.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).

[3] Beale, Handbook, 60–61.

[4] Same Scripture references noted above in the OT Context.

[5] R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press. 1985).