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Jesus and the New Testament Exodus

by Brant Pitre October 23, 2020 0 Comments

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Now, Matthew at this point in the account of the Gospel, steps in and he tells us the reason this happened was the fulfillment of Scripture:

This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” (Matthew 2:15b)

Now, that quotation there is from the book of Hosea. And in Hosea chapter 11:1, Hosea is speaking of the son as Israel, the collective people of Israel, and of the exodus of Israel from the land of Egypt—which took place of course at the time of Moses. So sometimes interpreters are puzzled by the application of this verse to the Holy Family, because in its original context, Hosea is not talking about the king of Israel—the Messiah, the Son of God—he’s talking about the people of God being brought out of Egypt.

But the way Matthew’s applying the verse is according to what scholars call typology. In other words, he’s evoking the memory of the exodus from Egypt of the whole people of Israel at the time of Moses as a way of helping us to see that the birth of Jesus isn’t just a fulfillment of prophecies of the coming of the king, but it’s also the inauguration of a kind of new exodus. And that’s something we’re going to see as we walk through the Gospel of Matthew. Throughout the course of Year A, one of the key themes of the Gospel of Matthew is going to be the fulfillment of the prophecies of a new exodus—which basically amounts to the expectation that Jews had in the first century AD—that when God would save His people at the time of the Messiah, that it would be similar to the way He had saved His people at the time of Moses in the exodus from Egypt. There are going to be parallels between the two.

So the parallel here is, just as God called Israel out of Egypt and identified the people of Israel as His Exodus 4:22, God says, “Israel is my first born son. Therefore, Pharaoh, let my people go.” So the whole reason for the exodus from Egypt is that Israel, the people of Israel, is God’s adoptive son. And God says to Pharaoh, “If you don’t let my son go, then your sons will die”...which is exactly what happens in the Passover.

So think about that—why is Matthew echoing that? Well, any first century Jew would know the reason for the exodus in part was because there was a wicked pagan king—the pharaoh—who was slaughtering the innocent sons of the Israelites at the beginning of the book of Exodus. And so God raises up Moses, the deliverer, to set them free. So the same thing’s happening now with a different king. Now we’ve got a half pagan wicked king—Herod—who’s trying to destroy all of the Israelite boys in Bethlehem so that he can execute the redeemer, the deliverer, the new Moses, which is the baby Jesus.

And just as Moses’ family—Miriam and his parents—saved the first redeemer, Moses, from the hands of the wicked king Pharaoh who was slaughtering the too now Joseph and Mary—the Holy Family—are going to save the new Moses, the infant Jesus, from the hands of the wicked King Herod. So there’s a kind of recapitulation of the events of salvation history from the Old Testament to the New Testament. They’re not identical. That’s how typology works. There’s similarity and difference. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” And that’s how typology works as well. It’s not repetition, it’s recapitulation. It’s fulfilling the old and then making it new as well.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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