George Booker
To Us A Child Is Born

(10) “Out of Egypt I Called My Son” (Matthew 2:13-23)

This portion of Matthew’s account could well be called “The Egypt section”. It is the antitype of the Old Testament history in the latter part of Genesis and the early part of Exodus. We have seen these characters before!

There is, first of all, Joseph — a “dreamer of dreams” (Matt. 2:13 ) just like his Genesis counterpart (Gen. 37:5,9,19). By the providence of God, the first Joseph brought the children of Israel (God’s national “son”) into Egypt to preserve their lives. By the same providence, the second Joseph brought God’s Son Jesus into Egypt to preserve his life.

In Matthew also there is Herod the Great, a mad ruler hardened of heart, a slayer of children, “brother in crime” to the Pharaoh of Moses’s day, who ordered the deaths of the Jewish boys.

Then there is Jesus himself, providentially preserved, like the young child Moses, from the murderous desires of an evil ruler, so that he might, in time, deliver God’s people from bondage.

God’s two “Sons”

The flight of Joseph’s family into Egypt, and their return after the death of the king, are shown by Matthew to be a fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy:

“Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt. 2:15; quoting from Hos. 11:1).

God’s Son in the Old Testament was a national, plural “son” (Exod. 4:22,23), but in the New Testament the prophecy is given a definitely singular emphasis. The reason is not difficult to grasp. “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 2:28; 9:6), and only those with the faith of Abraham are fit to be called his “children” (Rom. 4:11-13; Gal. 3:8,9; Matt. 3:8,9; John 8:33,39). According to the apostle Paul, Jesus was the singular seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16); he proved his claim to that family inheritance by perfectly obeying the will of God. In doing so he became the “hope of Israel”, the singular and only-begotten Son, through whom others might become “sons”, associated with the promises to the fathers of Israel. Like Moses before him, but in a fuller and richer sense, Jesus will bring “Israel” out of “Egypt” (symbolic of sin and death, Rev. 11:8) by the blood, not of a passover lamb, but of himself, the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and the true passover (1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 13:20).

The exodus from Egypt is a parable, then, of our redemption in Christ, and a foreshadowing of Christ’s role as the true passover for the true Israel. How appropriate then that in the life of him who is the “Israel” — the “prince with God” (cp. Isa. 49:3) — there should be a physical coming out of Egypt as a preview of the greater salvation which is the keynote of our Lord’s mission!

The allegory is even more firmly grounded in Scripture. The first acts of Christ after reaching maturity, as a prelude to entering upon his life’s work, also follow the “Egypt-passover” pattern. His baptism echoes the “baptism” of God’s national son in the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1,2). His 40-day wilderness temptation likewise finishes the 40-year wilderness trial of the children of Israel. Where the nation in the wilderness grumbled and failed, the Son in the wilderness brings Scripture to bear upon his temptations, resists them in faith, and succeeds!

The theme of Hosea

“Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1; quoted in Matt. 2:15).

Matthew does not quote Hosea as an isolated phrase that “sounds good”. It should never be supposed that Bible quotations are mere verbal “echoes” without substance. There are definite themes throughout the book of Hosea which find confirmation and fulfillment in the life of Christ, of which Hosea 11:1 is but one example.

Two consistent threads run through the whole of Hosea’s prophecy:

(1) God’s continuing love for His people;
(2) Israel’s continuing rejection of that love.

In God’s eyes Israel is an unfaithful wife as well as a wayward, rebellious child. Israel the unfaithful wife never quite puts away her adulteries, yet Yahweh, her Husband and Lord, is patient and full of mercy. Israel the wayward child never quite “grows up”, yet Yahweh gently takes him by the hand and with “ties of love” leads him out of danger (Hos. 11:3,4). Though Israel backslides and falls away again and again, still the Father will not forget His “son”: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” (v. 8).

In counterpoint to God’s abiding love there is Israel’s stubborn rebellion and rejection. Israel rejects God, rejects God’s Son, and finally is rejected by God, whose longsuffering can be stretched no further. This reciprocal rejection is the constant theme of the last sections of Hosea’s prophecy, and is especially evident in the verses preceding Hosea 11: 1:

9:7: “The days of punishment [literally, visitation] are coming” — The “King”, Jesus, visits his city and is rejected. “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you” (Luke 19:44).

9:9: “The days of Gibeah” — an echo of “Gabbatha” (John 19:13), the judgment seat where the King was at last and conclusively rejected.

9:10: “The early fruit on the fig tree” — “nothing on it except leaves” (Matt. 21:19), and the “fig tree” nation of Israel is cursed by Jesus.

9:12: “Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one” — an evident similarity to Jeremiah 31:15, the slaughter of the Bethlehem children.

9:14: “Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry” — Because Israel rejected God in crucifying His Son, they would themselves be rejected: “Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” ’ ” (Luke 23:28,29).

9:15: “All their wickedness (is) in Gilgal” — a possible reference to “Golgotha”. “I will drive them out of my house” — the cleansing of the temple, not once, but twice (John 2:1317; Matt. 21:12, 13). “Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:38).

9:17: “They will be wanderers among the nations.”

10:3: “Then they will say, ‘We have no king’ ” — that is, no king but Caesar (John 19:15).

10:5: “Its splendor, because it is taken from them into exile” — “For I tell you, you will not see me again...” (Matt. 23: 39).

10:8: “Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’ ” — This is cited explicitly in Luke 23:30.

10:15: “When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.”

Hosea sees the cutting off of Israel’s king as the nation’s final break with its God. Israel will now suffer at God’s hands and be rejected — for a long age at least — while God’s love is transferred to a new Son, Jesus the spiritual “Israel”. Through him a new nation, a new “Israel”, will be created.

“Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them” (Hos. 14 9).

Matthew and the rejection of the king

Against this backdrop of Hosea, then, Matthew, and his reference to Hosea 11:1, may be seen in perspective. Matthew’s is the Gospel that particularly portrays Jesus as the king of Israel: he is born to be a king, announced by a heavenly sign, worshiped by Gentile “kings” who lay their treasures at his feet. He preaches the coming of the Kingdom in his own person, and its final establishment in his return in royal power and authority, as portrayed in many parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto...”

As with Hosea, however, there is a darker side to the picture of God’s love shown toward and through His Son. There is the familiar two-fold rejection: Israel’s rejection of God’s King, and God’s consequent rejection of Israel. Even in the beginning, Christ is hunted by the murderous Herod, “King of the Jews”, who will allow no one to rule over him, and thus the family must flee to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15; Hos. 11:1). As Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, the kingly parables give way to more forbidding ones — like those of the vineyard, and the sheep and the goats — which speak of rejection and judgment. Israel’s destiny is sealed when, in a fateful morning, they utterly cut off their king. “We will not have this man to reign over us,” they say, but at the end they will find themselves rejected with “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

In view of the foregoing, Hosea 11:1 may be seen not as an isolated verbal link, but as part of a continuous theme found both in the prophet and the Gospel.

“Rachel weeping for her children”

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you’ ” (Matt. 2:13).

How long would that be? There was no answer. Many times God’s people have cried out, “How long, O Lord?” But He does not tell us. “If the Lord will”... and “when He will” — these must permeate all our philosophy of life, together with the related exhortation: “Wait upon the Lord”.

“For Herod is going to search for the young child to kill him.” Even at this early stage, there were very real experiences with Simeon’s prophesied “sword” (Luke 2:35). Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother, and departed into Egypt, where there were large and prosperous Jewish communities, and a synagogue at Alexandria which rivaled Jerusalem’s temple in beauty and prestige. There they would remain — the exact time period is unknown, perhaps a couple of years — until Herod the Great died.

Meanwhile, there occurred in Bethlehem an inhuman and atrocious event, but one sadly in keeping with Herod’s character. When Herod realized that the wise men had not returned as he had requested, he sent his men of war — how ludicrous! — with orders to butcher all the male children two years old and under in Bethlehem and the immediate region. It is not necessary to imagine an indiscriminate search and slaughter. Rather, it would be thoroughly in keeping with Herod’s craftiness to arrange under some pretense a gathering of all small children, to simplify his bloody deed.

“Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’ ” (Matt. 2:17,18; cp. Jer. 31:15).

Life and death are never far apart in this present state. God’s Son is born into the world, bringing the hope of eternal life to all men, but with him there comes death as well — a sword for others, foreshadowing the “sword” marked for him. Life there will be, in all its abundance, but first there must be death. The whole creation is subject to vanity, groaning in travail to be delivered from its bondage (Rom. 8:22) by the manifestation of God’s Son. Set alongside the coming of God’s Son there is, graphically expressed in these brutal murders, the reason for his coming.

The picture is deeper and more profound than it may first appear. The atrocity at Bethlehem was tragic, but no more so than countless other instances of suffering in that age, and before, and since. “Thorns and thistles” have sprung from the soil ever since the sin of our first parents, along with greed and hatred and murder; never will it be any different until God’s Kingdom comes. Many “Rachels” have wept for many children, and for husbands, brothers, and fathers as well, because Israel rejected her God and her king.

The only bright spot in the bleak picture is that there remains a final hope for Israel: “I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice” (Jer. 30:11), says God, indicating a limit to His punishment. And, eventually,

“ ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd... Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears... [for] there is hope,’ declares the Lord. ‘Your children [the scattered remnant of Israel] will return from the land of the enemy’ ” (Jer. 31:10,16,17).

Back to Nazareth

Receiving another dream, and learning that Herod was now dead, Joseph took Jesus and Mary and returned to Israel (vv. 19-21). It appears that his intention was to resume residence in Bethlehem, but when he heard that Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, now reigned there in his father’s stead, he was afraid. A further dream revealed to him that he should go instead to Nazareth (v. 22). The Scriptures never speak of Jesus returning to his birthplace. From henceforth he was a Galilean, and especially a Nazarene (v. 23). This interesting prophecy (“He will be called a Nazarene”) merits serious consideration, which must be reserved for a separate study.

It is suggested that Luke 2:39 is parallel to Matthew 2:22. This alignment would necessitate a considerable time gap between verses 38 and 39 of Luke 2, into which would fit most of Matthew 2. The basic chronology can best be seen below:

Approximate time before/after Christ’s birth

1:5-25 Conception of John the Baptist
15 months
(Betrothal of Joseph and Mary)

1:26-55 Conception of Jesus; Mary’s visit to Elizabeth
9 months

1:56 After 3 months, Mary returns to her own house
6 months

1:57-80 Birth and naming of John
6 months
1:18-24 Angel’s message to Joseph; Joseph takes Mary into his house

4 or 5 months

2:1-20 Journey to Bethlehem; birth of Jesus; visit of shepherds

2:21 Circumcision of Jesus (in Bethlehem)
8 days

2:22-38 Presentation of Jesus at temple (Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem and make their new residence there)
40 days
2:1-8 Visit of Magi to Jerusalem

1 1/2 or 2 years
2:9-11 Visit of Magi to Bethlehem

1 1/2 or 2 years
2:13-15 Flight into Egypt

1 1/2 or 2 years
2:16-18 Murder of children

1 1/2 or 2 years
2:19-23 Return to Israel to Nazareth instead of Bethlehem
2:39 Return to Nazareth
3 or 4 years

Jesus’ “father”

As Mary was Luke’s chief character, so is Joseph Matthew’s. There is much to consider in what is revealed about this “righteous man”. Mary is rightfully prominent in God’s plan, but she should not be allowed totally to overshadow Joseph. God chose them both, and they were both very important in His purpose with His Son.

Even though he was not the “biological” father, Joseph was chosen to be the spiritual father and instructor of Jesus. For such a task God chose no learned priest or rabbi. He chose, instead, a simple “working man”, a man who was tired and dirty at day’s end. A man who after supper would gather little Jesus and the other youngsters around him, telling them stories and teaching them lessons from the holy scrolls of Israel. There they would sit, “a heritage from the Lord” (Psa. 127:3), “olive shoots around his table” (128:3), and he would teach them... “Thus saith the Lord.”

“So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free;
But all my life in every part
Be fellowship with Thee.”

This expresses the spirit of true religion. This is what a man should teach his family, and he can do so by his works as well as his words. He can do so by revealing a consistent whole in his life, so that his children may understand that faith is to be mirrored in works, and that professions of faith by themselves are not enough. This was the kind of man from whom Jesus first learned the meaning of the word “father”. What a responsibility fathers have!

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