Thursday, March 1, 2012

Explicit Quotations of Scripture in Matthew 1-2 (Part 2): Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15

We are continuing our look at the way that Matthew uses scripture in his first two chapters. We started at the end of chapter 2 and are working our way backwards toward the quotation of Isa. 7:14 in Matt. 1:23. Last time, we looked at Matt. 2:23 and 2:17-18.

The next previous ("next previous"? Is that oxymoronic? Well, you know what I mean) explicit quotation is in Matt. 2:15. I'll quote the whole paragraph.
Now when they [i.e., the Magi] had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." So Joseph got up and took the child and his mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." (2:13-15; NASB; I have not always retained capitalization)
The quotation is from Hosea 11:1. Let me cite that passage, with the subsequent verses.
(1)When Israel was a youth I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called my son.
(2) The more they called them,
The more they went from them;
They kept sacrificing to the Baals
And burning incense to idols.
(3) Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in my arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
(4) I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love,
And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws;
And I bent down and fed them.
(5) They will not return to the land of Egypt;
But Assyria--he will be their king
Because they refused to return to me.
(6) The sword will whirl against their cities,
And will demolish their gate bars
And consume them because of their counsels.
(7) So my people are bent on turning from me.
Though they call them to the one on high,
None at all exalts him.
(8) How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
The passage continues with assurances that, in fact, God will not do what he had just said that he would do, that is, send Israel into exile to Assyria (cf. v. 5). It's a beautiful passage, and written only a couple decades before Assyria actually did come in and destroy Israel (722 BCE) and take many of its inhabitants into exile.

Now, one time I read Hos. 11:1 in a congregation and asked what it was talking about? The answer came quickly--it's a messianic prediction! This Christian had been trained to read Hos. 11:1 through (a poor understanding of) Matt. 2:15. Well, I submit to you that Matthew's audience had not been trained to so read Hos. 11:1, and Matthew then could not have relied on the assumption that his audience would read Hos. 11:1 in that way. So, imagine that you've never read Matthew (as Matthew's first audience had never read Matthew); now, what is Hos. 11:1 about? Is it a messianic prophecy? Does it have any connection to the Messiah at all? What is it predicting?

A casual reading of the passage (without reference to Matthew) should reveal that it has nothing to do with the Messiah and that it isn't even a prediction. It is a statement about the past, about how God rescued Israel from Egypt. It is a historical statement about the exodus--"Out of Egypt I called my son [= Israel]." It is a beautiful passage in its own right, and I have little doubt that Matthew's audience would have been familiar with it (assuming they were educated Jews).

So, what in the world is Matthew doing with it? We saw last time that his use of Jer. 31:15 was in no way a straightforward prediction-fulfillment type of thing. Matthew is using scripture in a manner much more subtle and sophisticated. Just like with Jer. 31:15, so now with Hos. 11:1, Matthew cites scripture as fulfilled in the life of Jesus in the sense that the things Israel experienced are now being recapitulated in this child, so that the history of Israel is being summed up in his own experience. He does not mean that Hos. 11:1 directly prophesied this particular event in the life of Jesus; he means that what has happened to Jesus is typologically similar to what happened to Israel.

How do we know that Matthew used scripture in this complex fashion, rather than the much simpler explanation that he merely misinterpreted Hos. 11:1 and thought that it actually was a prediction of the Messiah (the son of God)? I think there is a way to be very certain about this point.

Notice that the event that Matthew says was a fulfillment of Hos. 11:1 is the descent of the holy family into Egypt. If Matthew had been looking for a literal fulfillment of Hos. 11:1 as if it were a prediction of something, the logical place to insert his quotation of it would be after Matt. 2:21, when "Joseph got up, took the child and his mother [out of Egypt], and came into the land of Israel." Instead, Matthew says that when Joseph took his new wife and child out of Israel, that fulfills what Hosea said about God's son coming out of Egypt. In other words, Matthew typologically equates Israel with Egypt (Israel = Egypt). Why does he do this?

Let's look for the parallels between Israel and Egypt that Matthew wants us to see. A child is born who would become the savior of his people (Moses, Jesus). The life of this child is under threat from a wicked king (Pharaoh, Herod). The wicked king ensures that Jewish male children are killed. There may be other parallels, but these are the ones that pop out to me. So, in response to this situation, God rescues his 'son' (whether Israel or Jesus) from the hand of the wicked king, brings him out of that evil land, and into a place of safety. Only this time, the evil land is Israel itself, and the place of safety is actually Egypt. [A similar comparison between Israel and Egypt seems to happen in Rev. 11:8--"And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified."]

So, does Matthew misinterpret Hos. 11:1? I wouldn't call it that. Certainly, he has not offered an exegetical analysis of the passage that would be acceptable in most seminary classrooms, but he wasn't trying to do that, either. He has creatively re-used Hos. 11:1 in order to add significance to his narrative about Jesus. When the incongruity between the quotation and its supposed fulfillment are realized, Matthew's readers gain more insight into who Jesus is and what he has come to do.

We're not done yet, but you'll have to wait till next time for Matt. 2:5-6 and then Matt. 1:22-23.

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