“Out of Egypt I Called My Son”

A Whole-Bible Reading of Matthew 2:15

Editor's Note: This article is the first of two in a series on St. Matthew's use of Hos 11:1 in Matt 2:15. The second article, A Greater Israel and a Greater Exodus, examines the same issue from the perspective of biblical interpretation.

In Matthew 2:15, Matthew uses Hosea 11:1 in order to show fulfillment of something that God had previously said. In evaluating Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1, by examining the context of both passages and the hermeneutical (interpretive) and theological use, one is able to see that Jesus’ exodus out of Egypt signals the new exodus in which he was not only the God-sent deliverer, but also God’s Son, the True Israel.

Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ and then goes into description of Christ’s birth. After this, he begins narrating the visit of the wise men. Then, Matthew narrates Joseph’s dream of an angel of the Lord. Here, the angel tells Joseph to flee to Egypt because Herod was seeking to destroy the child—Jesus. After this, Joseph took the child and the child’s mother, Mary, to Egypt and remained there until Herod died. Then, Matthew writes that the purpose of Jesus going down into Egypt was to “fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matt 2:15; quote of Hos 11:1).

This is the third out of five quotations that are included in Matthew 1:18–2:23.[1] Matthew does not narrate the family’s return to Israel until later in the chapter in 2:19–23 because he narrates Herod’s massacre of the babies in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, “he inserts the reference to the prophecy about coming out of Egypt already here in order to create five discrete pericopes concerning five fulfillments of prophecy.”[2] From this, there is an implicit conclusion: baby Jesus’s return from Egypt that succeeded his escape from Herod matches that of Hosea’s declaration of God’s son being called out of Egypt. This would then lead up to Jesus going through the waters (baptism) and being tested in the wilderness—in both accounts, he prevails in obedience as one pleasing to God.

Next, one ought to look at the Old Testament (OT) context of Hosea 11:1 to understand Matthew’s use of it. Hosea 11:1 is a reference to the earlier exodus of Egypt. Hosea 10 described the earlier days of glory of Israel that have been superseded by Israel’s current wickedness. Hosea 11 repeats that pattern. Hosea writes, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1). Israel is God’s child and God’s love is demonstrated through the redemption of Israel out of Egypt. However, 11:2–7 is a lament on how Israel is wandering away from God. As a result, they will return to enslavement—exile (11:5). Nevertheless, Hosea gives hope and says that there will be restoration and deliverance, for God “will return them to their homes…” (11:11).

One can see that Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is an example of typology, that is, a repeated, biblical pattern that finds fulfillment in Christ. Though some may argue that “son” in Hosea is messianic as seen in other parts of the OT,[3] the use of “son” is not used in such a way in Hosea. Rather, it is usually used to refer to a literal offspring (1:1, 3, 8). However, it is “plausible to suggest that Num. 24:8 LXX combined with the history of Jesus to lead Matthew to Hos. 11:1.”[4] As said earlier, it is better to see Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 as an example of typology; that is, “the recognition of a correspondence between New and Old Testament events, based on a conviction of the unchanging character of the principles of God’s working.”[5]

This is a clear example of typology of the exodus. In the original event, Israel, God’s son, had been delivered from Egypt, but was sent in exile and later restored. Jesus, God’s Son, also had to return to Israel from Egypt. This is no mere chance, but was wholly orchestrated by God working of a series of events. Further, Jesus can be seen as the “new Moses.” Just as Moses escaped the Egyptian infanticide, escaped from Egypt, and returned to deliver God’s people, Jesus also escaped infanticide, and came out of Egypt and delivers his people. Jesus is not only the delivered, but the deliverer.

Finally, looking at the theological use/significance, one can see the true identity of Jesus and the call to be his people. Just as the exodus leads to a formation of a “new” people for God, “Matthew has taken up that prophetic typology and applied it to the ‘new exodus’ which has now come about through Jesus.”[6] However, Jesus is not only the founder of a new community of the people of God, but he is also himself the True Israel. Jesus prevailed where Israel failed as seen in the desert.

In short, the theological significance is this: when Jesus came out of Egypt, it was a typological fulfillment and a signal for a new exodus—a redemption from the enslavement of sin—and in this new exodus, Jesus would be the Leader and Deliverer. Further, being the True Israel, he would provide the required obedience that we need. Moreover, this Leader, who is the True Israel, is not just some person, but he is the Son of God himself.

[1] The others include Matt 1:22; 2:5–6, 17–18, 23.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 7.

[3] For example: 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7.

[4] Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament eds. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, 8.

[5] Blomberg, “Matthew,” 7 quote of France 1985: 40.

[6] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 81. France goes on to say, “Later in his gospel we shall find the language of a new covenant (26:28) and we shall hear Jesus speaking to and about his disciples in terms which belong to the new people of God constituted at Sinai (…5:5, 48; 8:11-12); as Jesus sets up ‘his ekklēsia’ (16:18) with its twelve leaders ‘judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (19:28), the message will be reinforced that the events which constituted Israel as the special people of God under Moses are now finding their counterpart  in the even more fundamental and eschatological role do the ‘new Moses’” (ibid., 81).