Christmas is a time of holiday cheer, or at least that’s the way it’s usually sold. But biblically, we find something much different, something much more like what happened in Egypt yesterday morning. In the infancy narratives of Matthew, Jesus becomes a refugee when Herod seeks to take his life. Matthew tells this brief account in Matthew 2:13–15 and explains that this was to fulfill the words of Hosea, “Out of Egypt, I will call my son.”
Sunday, I preached a message on this difficult, but important and comfort-rich, text. I argued that Matthew’s inclusion of this text makes Jesus’ flight to Egypt and back again a link to the promises of Hosea 11 and the hope of a new exodus. Just as Moses led the people of God out of Egypt, so too Jesus came to deliver his people and bring to them a new exodus. This was the messianic hope of the prophets, and Matthew makes a connection to words of Hosea so that we might find the same promise fulfilled today: Christ has come to bring us out of Egypt to dwell with God himself.
For those suffering at Christmas time, lacking Christmas cheer, Matthew’s Gospel offers hope. And though it takes a long runway to see all that he is doing, he brings the mourner in exile great promises of God’s deliverance.
Matthew 2:13–15 and Hosea 11:1–11
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10 They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; 11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.
- Christmas is usually thought of as a time of joy, laughter, and cheer. But in the Bible, what sort of “mood” is described around the birth of Christ?
- How does knowing the Bible is addressed to refugees, mourners, and sufferers impact us today? Does it give you more or less interest in reading Scripture?
- Read Matthew 2:13–15. What are the main features of the story of Jesus’ flight to Egypt? Who might be most inclined to resonate with this refugee story? How does this passage speak to Christians who encounter refugees today?
- Why does Matthew quote Hosea 11:1 in 2:15? What does he see in Hosea 11:1–1? (Be sure to notice v. 1, 5, 11).
- Why does Matthew put Hosea 11:1 after the flight to Egypt, instead of the return to Israel out of Egypt?
- Notice the way in which Matthew’s pattern (out of Israel/Egypt, into Egypt, out of Egypt) follows the pattern of Hosea 11:1–11. What does this mean for Israel in Matthew’s Gospel?
- If someone doesn’t know the backstory of Hosea, what remains the same in Matthew’s Gospel? What light does Hosea 11 provide to the context of Jesus’ flight to Egypt? How does this improve our understanding of Christ and the redemption he brings?
- Who do you know that is suffering, that may best be served by hearing this good news out of Egypt?
- “Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son” by Kevin DeYoung — I largely agree with Kevin’s approach, even if I might (as I tried to show in the sermon) put greater emphasis on Egypt in Hosea 11:5, 11 and the way Matthew used Hosea as a template for Jesus’ own flight narrative.
- “The OT in the NT: 5 Presuppositions, 9 Steps, and 1 Example [Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15]” by Justin Taylor citing G.K. Beale — Taylor lists 14 principles from Beale’s excellent Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. He then gives the example of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15.
- Darkness: The World Into Which Christ was Born — This article traces the many difficulties present in the lives of God’s people at the time of Christ’s birth. It helps paint a clearer (actually, darker) picture of Jesus’ birth.
- The First Days of Christmas: The Story of the Incarnation by Andreas Köstenberger and Alexander Stewart
- Matthew’s New David at the End of the Exile by Nicholas Piotrowski — Nicholas’ treatment of Hosea 11 in Matthew 2 is the best I’ve seen. His book is exorbitantly priced, but should be available at a local theological library. The structure of my sermon is indebted to his help on this difficult passage of Scripture.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds