The Flight To Egypt

Matthew 2:14-15 It requires no detailed study to note that the account of the flight to Egypt has no parallel account in either of the other synoptic gospels. Mark, of course contains no details of the birth and early life of Jesus, beginning as he does with the account of John the Baptist preparing the way. Luke, however, devotes a similar amount of his gospel to the birth and early years of Jesus as Matthew yet omits any reference to this incident. Immediately therefore we are able to place this passage within the ‘M’ tradition from a redactional point of view. In considering the theological purpose, intended audience and distinctive approach Matthew uses in his writing we perhaps are able to deduce the reason for this singular account and also comment further on the passage in question. Several church fathers (i.e. Irenaeus, Origen and Eusebius) stated what we might deduce from Matthew. Namely, that the distinctive Jewish emphasis of the book indicates that it was written primarily for the hearing of a Jewish audience. Whilst Matthew did not explicitly state his purpose as Luke did, nevertheless his content and emphasis are clear. Stanley Toussaint states:

‘Matthew has a twofold purpose in writing his gospel. Primarily he penned his gospel to prove Jesus is the Messiah, but he also wrote it to explain God’s kingdom program to his readers. One goal directly involves the other. Nevertheless they are distinct’.

Further to this John F Walvoord states:

‘Matthew’s purpose obviously was to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, that he fulfilled the requirements of being the promised King who would be a descendant of David, and that his life and ministry fully support the conclusion that he is the prophesied Messiah of Israel. As a whole, the gospel is not properly designated as only an apologetic for the Christian faith. Rather, it was designed to explain to the Jews, who had expected the Messiah when he came to be a conquering king, why instead Christ suffered and died, and why there was the resulting postponement of his triumph to his second coming’

On this basis Matthew frequently uses the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies to demonstrate to his Jewish audience that Jesus was the Christ. Verse 15 is such an occasion. A closer reading however would initially appear to indicate that the quotation from Hosea 11:1 has been taken out of all reasonable context. Hosea was not predicting anything. His purpose was to describe the Israelite’s Exodus from Egypt as the departure of God’s son. What therefore did Matthew mean when he described Jesus’ departure from Egypt as a fulfilment of Hosea’s words? We must first note what Matthew did not say. He did not say that Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy. Hermann Cremer discusses the significance of the word ‘fulfil’ (Gr. pleroo). He states that it has a broader meaning than simply to ‘make complete’. It essentially means to ‘establish completely’. In the case of predictive prophecy, the complete establishment of the prophecy occurs when what was uttered comes to past. In the case of prophetic utterances that deal with the past or the present, the establishment of what the prophet said took place when another similar event occurred, hence a recapitulation of the initial event. This is the sense in which Jesus’ departure from Egypt fulfilled Hosea’s prophecy. Plummer states:

‘The history of Israel, the ‘son’ Of God in a different sense, anticipated the life of the Messiah’ To state the same thing another way, Jesus was the ‘typological recapitulation of Israel’.

There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God’s chosen ‘son’ by adoption, and Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger, and the return was crucial and central to the nation’s providential history. Tracey Howard states:

‘Matthew looked back and carefully drew analogies between the events of the nation’s history and the historical events in the life of Jesus’

In conclusion, Matthew’s use of Hosea 11v1 is not without its problems. Although Hosea looks backwards and does not appear to require future fulfilment, Matthew sees complete fulfilment in the early life of Jesus. This he draws out by analogy between the life of Israel the nation, the ‘son’ of God and the life of Jesus, the Messiah the ‘Son’ of God. His use of Old Testament scripture, and his purpose of proclaiming Jesus as the promised Messiah, would not have been missed by his Jewish audience.

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