This passage is one of those passages that we need to be careful with. It is in vitriolic opposition that the Jews mock such a quotation of the prophet Hosea. For many Christians, we don’t know the prophecy being mentioned, and often don’t even know it is from Hosea. When we go back and look at the passage, like I did when I was young in Christ, we’re often baffled by what Matthew is saying. “Out of Egypt I call my son.” In Hosea 11:1, the context is quite obvious and explicit. It means nothing in relation to the messiah, and is explicitly in regard to Israel.
How could there be such a blunder on behalf of Matthew?
There are a couple things that we need to note. I’ve already gone through the first one to mention (see here). Matthew parallels the life of Jesus with the ‘birth’ of Israel. There are multiple aspects of Jesus’ life that reflect Isaac’s birth, Israel being in Egypt, the exodus, crossing the Red Sea, the forty days journey across the desert, the three temptations in the wilderness, coming to Sinai, and then receiving the Law. The whole point is that just as Israel must go through these circumstances, so too does/must Messiah go through them. It’s a pattern, and we need to be mindful of that. Just as Messiah went through these circumstances, so too shall Israel go through them – yes, even Calvary.
The other aspect that we need to notice is that the Old Testament has a pattern of saints who go down to Egypt. Under various circumstances, we find that none other than Abraham, Joseph, and subsequently Jacob, Israel, Moses (told to return to Egypt), throughout Leviticus through Deuteronomy the emphasis is upon how God brought Israel out of Egypt, Balaam prophesies that because Israel has been brought out of Egypt that God shall consume the nations, Solomon was an ally of Egypt, even had his chariots sent from Egypt, the enemies of Solomon flee to Egypt (1 King 11), and even Jeremiah was taken away into Egypt, where tradition says that he eventually went to be with his fathers.
My point is this:
God has established a pattern throughout Scripture regarding Israel and Egypt. We think of Babylon being the big enemy, or even Assyria, or the Philistines. Yet, somehow this enemy, the Egyptians who persecute and oppress God’s people, also have a positive affinity with God’s people. There is a conundrum here that Jesus was taken into Egypt for protection, just like Abraham, just like Joseph found favor in Egypt, just like Jacob and all his sons found favor, and just like Israel was often an ally with Egypt. Why would God desire that it is to Egypt that Joseph and Mary would flee with Jesus? Why not some other land nearby, like Asia Minor (which I know isn’t extremely close, but neither is Egypt), or even into Samaria? Why not stay within the Israel/Palestine region, and just go outside the jurisdiction of Herod? Why flee all the way to Egypt?
There is something within the mystery of God regarding Egypt, which is intertwined with Israel. When you read the prophets, there is mixed opinion concerning Egypt. Even within the same prophet, you might find one statement of judgment and condemnation toward Egypt, only to find later a blessing. For example, within the same chapter, Isaiah 19, we find statements of judgment upon Egypt that would make you to assume they will be wiped off the map. Yet, the chapter ends with asserting that Israel, Egypt, and Assyria together will have a highway between them, and the three together will be a blessing in the land. It even ends with God saying, “Blessed is Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”
This makes me uncomfortable.
We, as Christians, often like to think of God as being the one who comes in judgment in the last days, rectifying the oppression, and condemning the wicked. We like to view God as the guy in the sky who damns. We see the Old Testament God as a God of judgment and wrath and anger. Yet, the God of the New Testament is a God of love, of compassion, and of hope. However, here we have in the Old Testament a text regarding judgment and mercy, working hand-in-hand together, in a manner that is offensive to our religiosity.
I got to sit down with a man a couple days ago. While talking, he mentioned that he has been reading the Gospels recently. His words are something that I’ve also often felt. “I don’t think I know Jesus…” You read the words of this guy, and you have immensely practical statements about flesh and blood tangible things. Yet, at the same time, these tremendously practical statements about tangible things are also very spiritually focused. Somehow they are interwoven. You have these statements that need little or no interpretation, and then sandwiched in the middle between these statements are small statements that are elusive in our understanding. He makes statements that are full of love and compassion, and then sometimes in the very next statement speaks such harsh words that you wonder how this guy can be the epitome of “love”.
Do you know this God? Better yet, do you love this God? The one who can barely be comprehended, this God who often says something that boggles the mind, is that your God? Is that who you rejoice in? Or, are you left reading this and scratching your head?
I don’t think I can sufficiently answer to why God would have Jesus taken to Egypt. That is beyond my understanding, and yet it fits perfectly with all that I know God’s wisdom to be. I love this God. It’s so contrary to everything that I’ve expected, and yet so entirely exactly what I expect and desire for God to be.