Matthew 2:15

Sermon preached on December 18, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

In his book, "View From the Summit", Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb Mount Everest, tells about their summit effort. One of the things that he mentions is that they would sometimes have trouble sleeping because ice would form in the valve of their air mattresses and cause them to deflate and how they would wake and have to blow them up. He said that one time he was with Tenzing in a tent and, (p. 8)

"woke to see him on his hands and knees bowing and murmuring in a strange fashion. I accepted that he was carrying out some sophisticated Buddhist ceremony until I realized that he was only inflating a faulty air mattress."

We human beings can often be mistaken. Amazingly, this sometimes happens when we're sure that we're right. Last week I dropped my pen right when I was talking to Sue Pierce right after Sunday School. But when I finished my conversation and went to pick it up—surprisingly, it wasn't there. I couldn't understand who would take my pen when it was right at my feet. But it was gone. So I went around asking people if they had found a pen. Later when I asked Sue if I had given it to her, she said, no, but asked me if that was it in my shirt pocket. Sure enough it was. I had obviously picked it up but my mind was so intent on the conversation that I had no recollection of it. So sometimes we think we're right when it fact all that's happening is that we're losing our grip on reality.

But even for people who are normal, sometimes they are convinced they are right when they are totally wrong. Shortly after he conquered Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary and his team were invited by a local climbing club to a gathering in North Wales. Part of the weekend's activities involved climbing Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales. It's only 3560 feet, a mole hill compared to Everest at 29,035. Hillary writes, (p. 27)

"I arrived a little late only to discover that everyone else had headed off up Snowdon. I had no boots or mountaineering equipment, but set off up the mountain after them in a pair of sand shoes and casual clothing. I was about halfway up and moving very easily when a properly booted middle-aged gentleman, sporting an Alpine Club badge, appeared out of the midst. He stopped abruptly, looked aghast at my lack of equipment, and proceeded to give me a thorough dressing down. It was inexperienced and ill-equipped people such as myself, he told me, who gave the mountains a bad name. Fuming, he disappeared down the hill and out of sight. After a pleasant climb I returned to the Pen-y-Gwryd and entered the warm and comfortable bar where I was greeted by my expedition companions and introduced to our Alpine Club hosts. Soon I was shaking the rather limp hand of the gentleman who had berated me on the mountainside and I have rarely received a more distraught welcome."

When that member of the Alpine Club saw Hillary and his lack of proper footwear, clothing and equipment—he concluded that he was an inexperienced mountaineer. His first impression, although seemingly justified—was very much off the mark.

That can happen when we look at Scripture as well. Many people have looked this quotation from Matthew and have concluded that Matthew was totally wrong. Paul Carlson is one of those. He writes, (New Testament Contradictions)

"The first half of the verse makes it very clear that the verse refers to God calling the Israelites out of Egypt in the exodus led by Moses, and has nothing to do with Jesus."

This criticism is not new. Erasmus cites the Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate (361-363 A.D. ) as the first to take issue against Christianity because of this (John Sailhamer, WTJ, 63:1 [Spring 2001] p. 87)

Christian commentators have acknowledged the difficulty with Matthew's quotation. John
Calvin writes,

"But here arises a difficult question; for Matthew in chapter 2, accommodates this passage to the person of Christ… Hence it has happened, that scoffers have attempted to disturb the whole religion of Christ, as though the Evangelist had misapplied the declaration of the Prophet."

Roger Nichole summarizes this perspective, (Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl. F.H. Henry, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958, pp. 137-151)

"It has been urged at times that the New Testament writers have flouted the proper laws of hermeneutics, have been guilty of artificial and rabbinical exegesis, and thus have repeatedly distorted the meaning of the Old Testament passages which they quote."

Indeed, an examination of Hosea 11:1 shows Hosea is talking about the exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt. Verse 2 of Hosea 11 makes this clear. It says,

"But the more I called Israel,
the further they went from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images."

Thus our first thought might be,

"Well, Matthew is reading a lot into that text in Hosea."

One response to this difficulty has been for some Christian scholars to attempt to show that Hosea was in fact aware of the messianic implications of what he was writing. But to do so, it seems that they resort to, (Dan McCartney & Peter Enns, WTJ, 63:1, p. 104)

"semantic gymnastics that may make Origen's exegesis look restrained."

(Origen was one of the church fathers [b. 182] who is noted for trying to find deep, allegorical meanings in Scripture. He often read things into certain Scriptural passages, things that clearly weren't there.)

We don't have to hold to the fact that Hosea was aware that what he was writing referred to the coming Messiah. But what we should keep in mind that the
Holy Spirit was the One who inspired Matthew to quote this from Hosea. He was also the One who inspired Hosea to write the words in the first place. So this is the Holy Spirit's interpretation, giving us the ultimate meaning of the text. Dan McCartney and Peter Enns write about the Scriptures,

"since they are ultimately God's word, we can expect that they will exceed the 'horizons' of their original human authors."

But Matthew, knowing about Jesus life, death and resurrection, saw how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. McCartney and Enns write,

"Matthew is convinced that Jesus is the embodiment of all the promises of God, and that the OT, God's word to his people, is therefore ultimately about Jesus."

Leon Morris writes, (Pillar Commentary on Matthew)

"But where Hosea is referring to the Exodus, Matthew is thinking of Jesus' flight into Egypt. Consistently he sees Scripture as fulfilled in Jesus; thus the outworking of the divine purpose is accomplished in him."

So let's look at Matthew's quotation from Hosea so see what it tells us about Jesus' work—so that we can rejoice in it.

The great truth we see here is

the congruence between Jesus and His people.

Jesus recapitulates the experience of Israel. Hosea wrote,

"out of Egypt I called my son."

Jesus undergoes a similar historical experience. In a certain sense He enters into the experience of the Israelites. Jesus is identified with His people in their deliverance out of Egypt. Israel was a type of the Messiah. William Hendriksen writes, (Matthew p. 178)

"Just as Pharaoh, the cruel king, had tried to destroy Israel, so another king, namely Herod, at least equally cruel, was attempting to destroy Christ. But just as on their way to Egypt, during their stay in the house of bondage, and in their exodus Jehovah had protected his people, so God had protected his Son, not only on the way to Egypt and during his temporary residence there, but also on the way back. The Messiah was, as it were, recapitulating the history of his people Israel."

Jesus is identifying Himself with them. He is their representative, their Savior. Leon Morris, (Matthew, Pillar) quotes D. A. (I believe) Carson,

"Jesus himself is the locus of true Israel."

Dan McCartney and Peter Enns write ,

"Jesus is the true 'servant of Yahweh,' and so his life recapitulates Israel, or one might even say that for Matthew Israel's life pre-capitulates the life of the true Israel, Jesus. Thus, when Hosea says that God called his 'son' Israel out of Egypt, Matthew can understand that calling, as well as every other consideration in the OT of Israel as God's son, as ultimately pointing to Jesus, the true Israel, the true Son of God."

Hendriksen writes,

"Nevertheless, it is hardly enough to say that Israel was a type of Christ. The bond between the two is closer than the word 'type' would imply."

This is key. As John Calvin has written, (Commentary on Hosea 11:1)

"it must be remembered that Christ cannot be separated from his church…"

Now what this means is that in Jesus' coming we should understand that

it's not just God with us—but God one with His people.

There's a unity, a great bond that exists between Jesus and His people.

You are all familiar with the name for Jesus,
Immanuel. In Matthew 1:23 Matthew recorded how the angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take Mary to be his wife, Matthew wrote,

"All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
'The virgin will be with child
and will give birth to a son,
and they will call him
which means,
'God with us.'"

God with us. How wonderful and glorious. That's one of the things that we should think of when we think of Jesus coming into this world. It was nothing less than God Himself coming to dwell among us.

But there's more than that. Here in Matthew 2:15 something additional is revealed. Jesus entered into the history of His people. The Old Testament history of Israel relating to redemption from Egypt was ultimately fulfilled in the life experience of Jesus. The exodus from Egypt, as magnificent and wonderful as it was, was but a pointer to a much greater deliverance—the deliverance brought about by God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

What this means for you Christians is that

in the work of Jesus you ought to see complete fulfillment—perfect deliverance.

Immanuel, God with us. Jesus, God one with us. The great exodus from Egypt under Moses was a mere shadow, a mere pointer to the deliverance that the Great Shepherd of Israel would effect. Jesus, entered into history, the history of His people. He knew what it was like to be hated, to be oppressed, to have His life in danger. In His history there is perfect deliverance. God with us. God one with us. God in our place. Jesus giving perfect redemption.

Calvin writes,

"God in his wonderful providence intended that his Son should come forth from Egypt, that he might be a redeemer to the faithful; and thus he shows that a true, real, and perfect deliverance was at length effected, when the promised Redeemer appeared… For it behaves us to consider this, that God, when he formerly redeemed his people from Egypt, only showed by a certain prelude the redemption which he deferred till the coming of Christ. Hence, as the body was then brought forth from Egypt into Judea, so at length the head also came forth from Egypt: and then God fully showed him to be the true deliverer of his people. This then is the meaning."

Secondly, Jesus' departure into Egypt shows us the universal sinfulness of mankind.

There is something very interesting about where our text is located. Matthew quotes this verse in regard to Jesus' departure into Egypt, in the face of Herod's murderous plan to kill God's Son. One would perhaps think that this would be better quoted around verse 22, the section that deals with Mary and Joseph's coming up out of Egypt with Jesus. But Matthew puts this quote with the departure into Egypt. Up to this week I really never thought it made much difference, after all, if Jesus goes down into Egypt, then He has to come up.

But Matthew quotes it in relation to Jesus' going down into Egypt
. In a sense that's more appropriate, for in a certain sense, things are reversed here. Jesus was not in danger in Egypt, from an Egyptian ruler—but he was in danger in Israel, from Herod. He didn't leave Egypt to escape danger, He left Israel to escape danger. It could be said that God's calling Jesus out of Israel is the parallel to His calling Israel out of Egypt.

You see, there's a way of understanding this text that was completely foreign to my thinking—that the
land of Israel is symbolically called Egypt—thus we have Matthew referring to the leaving of the land of Israel—as being called out of Egypt.

Now before you dismiss such an idea as being too far fetched—consider what Dan
McCartney and Peter Enns have to say,

"place names are sometimes treated in Scripture and in subsequent Jewish literature as symbolic. Hosea has done this in referring to Assyria as a kind of Egypt (Hos 11:5). This kind of place-name symbolism runs straight through the accompanying material in Matt 2, 13 which seems to connect a symbolic place-name meaning with a literal place associated with the infant Jesus. Thus the Ramah of Jer 31 connects the Ramah north of Jerusalem where the deportees were gathered, with the "ramah" or high place south of Jerusalem which was reported to house Rachel's tomb, and which may have been the same hill as Bethlehem is situated on. And the enigmatic reference to "Nazareth" is probably a symbolic reference to the prejudice with which Judean Jews regarded the peasantry of Galilee (note the astonished doubt of Nathanael in John 1:46). The reference in 4:14–15 to Galilee of the Gentiles also seems to connect a symbolic name with Jesus' literal presence in an area."

"In addition, the NT combines this symbolic use of place names with the eschatological reversal theme in interesting ways. The Apocalypse of John presents the wicked religious power of the world as a "Babylon" which is great but is overthrown. (Most take Babylon to refer to Rome, but it could also be Jerusalem—Rev 18:24 intimates that the "Babylon" that John the Seer has in mind is literal Jerusalem.) Similarly Paul seems to reverse the normal expectations regarding Sinai and Jerusalem in Gal 4, where literal Jerusalem and literal Israel become figurative Sinai and Hagar. And most notably, in Rev 11:8 the place of Jesus' crucifixion is spiritually called 'Egypt.' Hence, Matthew does not quote Hos 11:1 on the occasion of Jesus' return from literal Egypt, but regards it as fulfilled by Jesus' departure from Israel into Egypt. For Matthew, literal Israel has become "Egypt" and the king of literal Israel (Herod) is a new "Pharaoh" that tries to kill the promised deliverer by slaughtering infants, whereas literal Egypt becomes a place of refuge."

An eschatological reversal theme. Ancient Israel was in danger from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Pharaoh ordered all the male children to be drowned in the Nile. The Egyptians were ruthless, murderous taskmasters. There was danger there until God called His people forth. But with Jesus it's different. The danger is from Herod, from within Israel. He is called out of Israel, which is His Egypt. He flees to Egypt, where there is safety. Everything is reversed. Israel becomes Egypt.

One of the things that this teaches us is that even the Israelites were sinners. All people are sinners, even the people of Israel. In other words, danger is everywhere, even in the promised land, among God's people. Where is sin? Where is bondage? Where is danger? It's everywhere among human beings. We're all sinners.

The ancient Israelites were not to think that the Egyptians were 'sinners' and they were not. No. That was never what the Scriptures taught.

But some people interpreted it that way. One of the natural things that we human beings do is think that the bad things of the Bible apply to others, not to us. I remember once taking one of my great aunts to church with us. She was a very critical, very judgmental person. The sermon was on Matthew 7:1,

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged."

All through the sermon I was thinking.

"This is great. This is exactly what she needs to hear. This sermon is perfect for her. I hope it does a lot of good."

After the service I couldn't wait to hear what she would say. It wasn't at all what I expected. She said something to the effect,

"That was a great sermon. I wish so and so had been there to hear it. It's was exactly what she needed to hear."

My great aunt had done the very thing I had. Rather than applying it to herself, she thought it applied to someone else.

Many Jews in Jesus time did that. They thought that that other people were sinners, not themselves. They made a tragic mistake.

Everyone here today know assuredly, Jesus came into the world not merely because other people are sinners, but also because you are a sinner. You, too, need Jesus.

Secondly, this eschatological reversal shows that

Jesus is the Savior for all people.

I've often thought about the difficult time missionaries in Egypt must have. In the Bible Egypt is often painted black. I've thought that evangelism in Egypt would be very difficult because of that.

But there are interesting themes for Christians to build on—how it was Egypt that provided safety for God's Son, how Jesus went down into Egypt and spent some of his boyhood there. How He graced that land.

Thus this text shows us that Jesus is not a regional, national Savior. He is the Savior of all mankind. He brought His grace to Egypt, He lived in Egypt. Light came into the world—and one of the first places it went was to Egypt. Egypt provided safety for the Savior of mankind. How God exalted Egypt!

Jesus went to Egypt. Egypt needed Jesus. This means that you need Jesus. Without Him you will be lost. Go to Him and He will accept you.

How do you know He'll accept you?

Because the most amazing thing in the universe is the wondrous love of God. God loves people who do not deserve love.

The final thing I want to draw your attention to about Matthew's quote from Hosea is that when the writers of the New Testament quoted from the Old Testament, they verse they quoted was often a pointer—pointing us to not just to a specific verse from the Old Testament—but to that whole section of Scripture. They didn't want you to just go back and look at that one verse. No, they were pointing you to the context of the verse they quoted. If you miss that, you perhaps won't get the full thrust of what they wanted you to.

For example, I've had people ask me about Jesus' words on the cross,

"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?"

They ask what was going on there—was Jesus in doubt? What His faith weak, faltering? Was He admitting that He was mistaken about being the Messiah? Those are some of the things that people have suggested.

But none of those things are true. The problem is that many people don't realize that that's a quotation from Psalm 22. But if they just go back to that verse, Psalm 22:1, it really doesn't help them much because it's pretty much an exact quote. But if you read all of Psalm 22- you'll see that it's a great messianic prophecy and that by quoting it on the cross, Jesus was showing everyone that He was the Messiah, that He was fulfilling the prophecy in Psalm 22. Psalm 22 describes in great detail Jesus' suffering on the cross. In verses 14-18 we read,

"I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing."

So if you look at the context of the verse that was quoted, you see a much greater picture. You see that Jesus was showing everyone that He was the Messiah, that He was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

So when Matthew quotes from Hosea 11, we should look at the context there. And what it shows us is incredible love. As we saw from our responsive reading, the people of Israel were loved by God yet they did not respond. God said, (verse 2)

"But the more I called Israel,
the further they went from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images. "

Then in verse 7 God said,

"My people are determined
to turn from me."

But how did God respond? He could have destroyed them. He could have poured out His anger on them. Instead God said,

"'How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God,
and not man— the Holy One among you.
I will not come in wrath.
They will follow the LORD;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come trembling like birds from Egypt,
like doves from Assyria.
I will settle them in their homes,'
declares the LORD."

What love there is in God. Go to Him for salvation.