Matthew anchors the story of Jesus in Israel’s history. If we are unfamiliar with the Old Testament Scriptures and this history, we will miss important parts of the message. This is especially true in the prelude to Jesus’ public ministry in chapters 1-4. Richard Hays (Reading Backwards and Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels) explores these connections.
Matthew encourages the reader to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament precursors, particularly Moses, David, and Isaiah’s Servant figure. … Matthew’s language and imagery are from start to finish soaked in Scripture; He constantly presupposes the social and symbolic world rendered by the stories, songs, prophecies, laws, and wisdom teachings of Israel’s sacred texts. (p. 109)
Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s Scripture, he is the Messiah and he enacts Israel’s destiny the way it was intended. In the opening section there are at least seven passages where Matthew makes a direct statement or allusion to Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s Scripture.The fulfillment passages sometimes seem a reach, with 2:15 “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” a good example. This quote is found in Hosea 11:1, which is decidedly not a messianic prophecy. This passage, and the rather simplistic assertions sometimes made about it in sermons and Christian literature, has long troubled me. It shouldn’t though. In order to understand Matthew’s point in including this citation, and others as well, we need to dig deeper than some index of prooftexts and look to the context of the passages.
Jesus enacts Israel’s destiny. In this post we will look at four specific passages: the flight to Egypt (2:13-15), Herod’s murder of the innocents (2:16-18), the baptism of Jesus by John (3:13-15), and the temptation (4:1-11). In all of these passages there is, according to Hays, “a typological identification of Jesus with Israel: Jesus becomes the one in whom the fate of Israel is embodied and enacted.” (p. 113)
(1) Out of Egypt I called my Son. 2:13-15 Hosea 11 starts with the identification of Israel as God’s son. This is a tradition that can be traced to Moses and the exodus. God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh that “Israel is my firstborn son.” (Ex 4:22) But we should see in Matthew’s formula “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet” not simply the bald misappropriation of Hosea 11:1, but a resonance with the context of Hosea 11 and with God’s love for and rescue of his people, Israel.
Matthew transfigures Hosea’s text by seeing how it prefigures an event in the life of Jesus. Matthew now sees the fate of God’s “son” Israel recapitulated in the story of God’s Son, Jesus: In both cases, the son is brought out of exile in Egypt and back into the land.
… Matthew cannot be unaware of the original contextual meaning of Hosea 11:1 as an expression of God’s love for Israel, a love that persists even through Israel’s subsequent unfaithfulness (Hos 11:8-9). Indeed, Matthew’s use of the quotation depends upon the reader’s recognition of its original sense: if Hosea’s words were severed from their reference to the original exodus story, the literary and theological effect of Matthew’s reading would be stifled. The fulfillment of the prophet’s words can be discerned only through an act of imagination that perceives the figural correspondence between the two stories of the exodus and the gospel. … the story of Jesus acquires the resonance of the story of Israel. (p. 113-114)
Matthew’s use of the quotation also names Jesus as God’s Son. This is not independent from, but part and parcel of the figural connection between Jesus and Israel.