Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 2 2013 - Matthew 2:13-3:6 – Out of Egypt I called my son

Matthew is keen to demonstrate how the arrival of Jesus fulfils all of the promises of God in the Old Testament. Jesus' miraculous conception is the fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14 (Matthew 1:23). His birth in Bethlehem is in fulfilment of Micah 5:2 (Matthew 2:6). Even Herod's slaughter of the young boys in Bethlehem is seen as fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:15 (Matthew 2:18).

But is Matthew doing justice to these Old Testament Scriptures? Matthew tells us that Joseph is warned in a dream of Herod's determination to kill baby Jesus and told to take the child and his mother to the safety of Egypt. This, says Matthew, was to fulfil the prophecy of Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Matthew 2:14). But the context in Hosea is not prophecy concerning the future, but God's lament over Israel's unrequited love; "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images..." (Hosea 11:1-2). Surely Matthew is treating the text of Scripture like the worst of modern preachers; he takes a text out of context and simply twists it to his own ends.

On initial reading this may seem to be the case. But this is to betray a superficial understanding of the relationship between the Testaments. Matthew has a far richer understanding of promise and fulfilment.

Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all that has gone before, not merely in the sense that he fulfils a few proof texts. In Jesus, the history of God's relationship with humankind receives a new focus. Israel was God's chosen one, God's firstborn son (see particularly Exodus 4:22). Israel was sent down into Egypt to be saved from death (by famine). Israel was called out of Egypt to be God's special people; "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:4-6). They were to be a light to the nations; the means by which the God's promise to Abraham would be fulfilled and all nations would enjoy the blessing of knowing God.

But Israel failed to live up to the calling of God. God laments over his wayward people, "the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images." Matthew's point is that where Israel failed, this child will succeed. He is God's firstborn Son. When he is called out of Egypt he will be faithful to God's call. When he suffers temptation in the desert, he will not rebel against God. He will succeed where Israel has failed. In him, every chapter of the story so far will find its recapitulation and its conclusion – its fulfilment. He is the Saviour of the world; the one in whom every nation on earth shall be blessed. The worship of the Magi and their gifts laid at the feet of the Christ-child anticipates the day when every knee shall bow to him and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus, I thank you that you came into the world to succeed where we have failed. All of the promises of Scripture have their ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ (‘It is true’) in you. I gladly worship you and own you as my Lord. Help me, like John the Baptiser, to attract others to your kingdom that they may turn from their brokenness, failure and rebellion to embrace the healing and hope that is to be found only in you. Help me to be one through whom your light shines in a dark and gloomy world.

Peter Misselbrook