Now when they 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.”
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.”
The geographical prophecy
Last week we read that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and Jesus was. This was not the only geographical prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah. Matthew quotes from Hosea 11:1, which states, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” So, the Messiah would not only be born in Bethlehem but would also necessarily come out of Egypt according to Matthew.
When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. The more they called them, The more they went from them; They kept sacrificing to the Baals And burning incense to idols. Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; But they did not know that I healed them. 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. They will not return to the land of Egypt; But Assyria—he will be their king Because they refused to return to Me.
This verse of Scripture that Matthew quotes from and explicitly refers to as prophecy fulfilled in Jesus Christ is an indictment from the prophet Hosea against the nation of Israel. When God, through the prophet Hosea indicts the nation, He refers to the nation as his son who is unable to obey Him. Hosea refers to the wilderness years (Numbers 14:34) and explains the doctrines of Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone) and Sola Gratia (by grace alone) as we know them today. If we look at Hosea 11:1 outside of the context of the rest of Hosea’s prophecy, it would seem like Matthew is misquoting Hosea. Matthew, though, is considering the context of the entire prophecy and his Jewish audience probably would have been familiar with Hosea enough to understand exactly what he was proving.
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity And receive us graciously, That we may present the fruit of our lips. Assyria will not save us, We will not ride on horses; Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ To the work of our hands; For in You the orphan finds mercy.”
I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily, And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, And his beauty will be like the olive tree And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow Will again raise grain, And they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon. O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; From Me comes your fruit.
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.
The prophecy can be summarized in this way: God chose a national people through whom the world would be blessed. This national people was unable to be the righteousness of God. God would take away the iniquity of His people and heal their apostasy. It was to be entirely a work of God. God, Himself would be the His righteousness through Israel and those who live in His shadow will blossom like the vine.
National Israel could not be the true son referred to by Hosea. Jesus would be the true son being called out of Egypt. Hosea’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus. Prophecies that work out like this are known as prophecies with dual fulfillment. Hosea was telling national Israel both that they would be delivered into the hands of Assyria and that the true deliverer would be called out of Egypt as the nation was called out of Egypt so long before.
Israel’s fulfillment in Christ
In the same fashion, Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15 as a prophecy being fulfilled while as infants in Bethlehem are being slaughtered by by the command of Herod,
Thus says the Lord,
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”
Jeremiah prophesied before and during the Babylonian exile. Chapter 31 is during the exile and before the remnant is returned to Judea. Ramah was a place representative of the region. Jeremiah 31:18 confirms this. Rachel, Jacob’s wife, died near Ramah on the way to Bethlehem (1 Samuel 10:2, Genesis 35:19-20). When Jeremiah is writing this, he is personifying the sadness of Israel in the exile as Rachel, who died on the way to the promised land. Rachel’s children had to leave the promised land and go into Egypt after their brother, Joseph (Genesis 42-50). Jeremiah uses this story to prophesy concerning the Israelites (descendants or children of Jacob), who are lost in the exile.
When Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15 as prophecy being fulfilled in Jesus Christ, He is referring again to Jesus’ coming out of Egypt (just as the Israelites would come out of Egypt after Jacob’s children had to leave the promised land) and Jesus delivering His people from spiritual exile just as God would deliver the remnant from the exile as Jeremiah was prophesying (Jeremiah 31:27-40).
Jesus was taken into Egypt just as Israel was taken into Egypt (Genesis 37-50). Infants were slaughtered as a human king sought to preserve his own authority and one baby was spared who would be the deliverer of God’s people (Exodus 1:15-2:10). As Moses delivered the national people of God so Jesus would be the deliverer of God’s eternal people. Just as Israel came out of Egypt, so did Jesus. This would even be followed by a call to repentance (Matthew 3) and a forty-day period in which Jesus is in the wilderness (Matthew 4) to mirror Israel’s sin against God and forty years of exile in the wilderness (Numbers 14:34, which clarifies forty years of punishment for forty days of failing to seek after God). Jesus was not merely the fulfillment of prophecy. He is the fulfillment of national Israel and would succeed in every arena which national Israel failed. He alone is righteous and He alone would fulfill the covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21).
Jesus is not only the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham, but He is also true Israel (France, 81). Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and the fulfillment of Israel that God’s righteousness might abide in His creation and that His creation might dwell in His righteousness alone.
- If Jesus is true Israel and the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham, is He alone now the object of all God’s promises to national Israel?
- How does this truth lead us to think about eschatology or national Israel’s current place in God’s redemptive plan?
- If Christ is the explicit object of God’s promise, then the only true people of God are those in Christ Jesus- whether of national Israel or not.
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