“Out of Egypt I Called My Son”: Intertextuality and Metalepsis in Matthew 2:15

Charles L. Quarles

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Matthew rightly interpreted Hos 11:1 as a reference to the historic exodus that anticipated an eschatological exodus led by the Messiah. Matthew was attentive to the fact that Hosea repeatedly used the image of the Egyptian bondage to portray Israel’s Assyrian exile and thus utilized the image of the exodus to portray Israel’s restoration (Hos 2:14–15; 8:13; 9:6; 11:5). Like his Jewish contemporaries, Matthew recognized that the Messiah would fulfill the prophecy regarding the coming of a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15–19) and thus would lead God’s people on the promised new exodus from this continuing exile. Matthew quoted Hos 11:1 because he saw Jesus’ return from Egypt as signaling the beginning of this new exodus.

Key Words: Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15; new Exodus; new Moses; NT use of the OT

Martin Pickup referred to Matt 2:15 as the passage “that many Bible believers regard as the most troubling case” of the NT use of the OT.[1] The text is such an important test case for hermeneutical theories that one recent book on hermeneutics required each contributor to offer an interpretation of Matt 2:7–15 and explain this specific verse.[2]

Four major views of Matthew’s use of Hosea exist. Each of these has multiple variations and scholars often combine multiple approaches. The atomistic interpretation view claims that Matthew was attracted to the text simply because it mentioned the departure of a divine son from Egypt. Matthew either misunderstood or was completely disinterested in the original sense of the text. Although some scholars see Matthew’s atomistic interpretation as faulty, others argue that Matthew’s approach was legitimate for the period since it was consistent with midrashic interpretation.[3]

The recapitulation of Israel view sees Matthew’s use of Hos 11:1 as prompted by the notion of the Messiah’s corporate identification with Israel that results in him reliving major events in Israel’s history.[4] Thus Matthew applied Hos 11:1 to the Messiah on the basis of an “Israel typology.”[5]

The Messianic prophecy view (championed by Barnabas Lindars) suggests that Matthew identified the Messiah as the “son” of Hos 11:1 under the influence of a messianic interpretation of Num 24:7–9 suggested by the LXX.[6] Lindars suggested that Matthew interpreted Hos 11:1 against the background of the similar statement in Balaam’s oracle and concluded that Hosea referred to the Messiah. Matthean scholars David Hill and Dale Allison and Old Testament scholar John Sailhamer have adopted, to one degree or another, the view suggested by Lindars.[7]

An often-neglected proposal is the biblical-theological interpretation defended most ably by Greg Beale. Beale persuasively argued that “Matthew is interpreting Hos 11:1 in the light of its relation to the entire chapter in which it is found and in the light of the entire book, and that his approach does, indeed, verge upon a grammatical-historical approach combined with a biblical-theological methodology.”[8] Beale’s argument included several essential elements. First, Hos 11:1–11 focused on Israel’s future eschatological restoration that is described as a return from “Egypt.” Hosea 11:1 referred to Israel’s historic exodus. However, 11:10–11 referred to an eschatological exodus in which Israel would be delivered from exile and restored. Hosea intended to highlight the correspondence between the historic exodus and this eschatological exodus.[9] Second, Israel’s deliverance from Egypt would be led by an individual king (Hos 3:5) who is identified in 1:10–11 as the “head” (רֹאשׁ) of the “sons of the living God.” This introduces the concept of corporate headship. Furthermore, Hosea 11 alludes to Numbers 23 and 24 in which the Balaam oracles refer to both the exodus of Israel (23:24) and the exodus of Israel’s king (24:9), thus applying corporate language to the individual. Beale further suggests that the description of Jesus as the “son of the living God” in Matt 16:16 may be an allusion to the description of Israel as the “sons of the living God” in Hos 1:10 “by which Jesus is seen as the individual kingly son leading the sons of Israel, whom he represents.”[10] He added: “Such an identification of this individual son with the corporate sons is likely the reason that Matt 2:15 applies the corporate ‘son’ reference of Hos 11:1 to the individual Jesus.”[11] Beale concluded: “Jesus’ journey out of Egypt is identified as Israel’s eschatological exodus out of Egypt to which Israel’s first exodus out of Egypt pointed.”[12]

The view that Matthew recognized Hosea was referring to an eschatological exodus of Israel has been argued by recent commentators such as Craig Keener and older commentators like Strack and Billerbeck.[13] Recent studies in intertextuality have bolstered this interpretation. Scholars such as Richard Hayes have argued that New Testament allusions or citations of the Old Testament involve metalepsis, “a literary technique of citing or echoing a small bit of a precursor text in such a way that the reader can grasp the significance of the echo only by recalling or recovering the original context from which the fragmentary echo came and then reading the two texts in dialogical juxtaposition.”[14] In Matthew’s metalepsis, he expects the reader to recall that Hosea’s description of the historic exodus was the prelude to the promise of a second eschatological exodus. Other texts in Hosea demonstrate that this exodus would be led by a Davidic Messiah and prophet like Moses.

The rest of this essay will explore evidence supporting the “biblical-theological” interpretation.[15] First, the essay will argue that expectation of a second exodus is prominent in the Old Testament and it is not surprising that Matthew would be aware of this theme. The threat of a second Egyptian captivity and promise of a second exodus was part of the fabric of the Deuteronomic covenant. Later, the Old Testament prophets Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah further developed the new exodus motif.

Second, the essay will argue that Matthew’s use of Hos 11:1 to refer to an eschatological exodus led by the Messiah suits well his historical and cultural context. Under the influence of the Law and the Prophets, the correspondence between Moses and the exodus on the one hand and the Messiah and eschatological deliverance on the other hand became an important element of rabbinic eschatology. Furthermore, several features of the messianic movements described by Josephus and characteristics of the Jewish sect in Qumran show that the expectation of participating in an eschatological exodus led by a redeemer like Moses was a prominent trait of popular Judaism in the first century.

Third, the essay will argue that the biblical-theological interpretation fits Matthew’s literary context exceptionally well. The understanding of the quotation of Hos 11:1 as part of the promise of the new Moses and eschatological exodus coheres with the emphases of Matthew 2 in which the stress is on Jesus’ identity as the prophet like Moses rather than on his identity as the divine Son.

The Prominence of the New Exodus Theme                                        in the Old Testament

The Torah Foretold a Second Exodus

The Pentateuch warned that, if Israel failed to keep the covenant, they would suffer the horrors of Egyptian bondage yet again. Deuteronomy 28:27 threatened, “The LORD will afflict you with the boils of Egypt, tumors, a festering rash, and scabies from which you cannot be cured.”[16] Deuteronomy 28:60 warned, “He will afflict you again with all the diseases of Egypt, which you dreaded, and they will cling to you.” Most significantly, Deut 28:68 which serves as the climax of the description of the curses for abandoning the covenant threatened, “The LORD will take you back in ships to Egypt by a route that I said you would never see again. There you will sell yourselves to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.”[17]

The Pentateuch frequently warns that Israel’s refusal to keep covenant with Yahweh will result in Israel’s defeat, deportation, and subjugation (Deut 28:36–37, 48, 63–64). The climactic warning about a return to Egypt refers to this deportation and subjection by many different nations. Thus “Egypt” may include the literal land of Egypt, but it is clearly not restricted to it. Egyptian bondage serves as an emblem for deportation, subjection, disease, and suffering that will result from divine judgment for breaking the covenant.

God promised that after this return to Egypt he would restore and bless his people again (Deut 30:1–4). Since the divine curse was expressed in terms of a return to Egypt and since the covenant renewal in Moab made repeated references to the exodus (Deut 29:2–5, 16, 25), the promised restoration of repentant Israel was naturally conceived of as a new exodus and conquest: “The Lord your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you will take possession of it. He will cause you to prosper and multiply you more than He did your fathers” (Deut 30:5).

Hosea Predicted a Second Exodus

The prophet Hosea (786–746) employed the Pentateuchal theme of a return to Egypt and eventual new exodus in his prophecy. Several lines of evidence support this claim.[18]

First, Hosea portrays Israel’s future judgment for her sin as a return to Egypt. Hosea 8:13 says, “Now He will remember their guilt and punish their sins; they will return to Egypt.” Hosea 9:6 adds, “For even if they flee from devastation, Egypt will gather them, and Memphis will bury them.” This theme is especially prominent in chapter 11, the source of Matthew’s quotation: “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” (Hos 11:5, NIV).[19]

Second, Hos 2:14–15 foretells of a day when God will bring Israel “into the wilderness” and when Israel will “answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt” (ESV). The passage anticipates a time of restoration for Israel that will be reminiscent of the Exodus experience. Rabbinic interpretation saw the passage as a reference to the Messiah, who, like Moses, will lead his people in the wilderness (Ruth Rab. 2:14; Pesiq. Rab. 15:10). The rabbinic interpretation seems justified since Hos 3:4–5 connects this time of restoration with the reign of the Messiah.

Third, the immediate context of Hosea 11 also shows that 11:1 was part of a promise of a new Exodus. Although 11:1 describes the original exodus from Egypt (since 11:2 shows that this exodus was followed by Israel’s idolatry), the following verses warn that Israel will be enslaved again in Egypt and Assyria but that God would deliver his people again, just as he had done through the exodus, by bringing about a return from exile. After the threat of a second “Egyptian bondage” in Assyria,[20] Hos 11:11 then promises an exodus from Egypt and a return from exile in Assyria: “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” (ESV).[21] Hosea 12:9 recalls the historic exodus (“I have been Yahweh your God ever since the land of Egypt”) but promises a new sojourn in the wilderness such as accompanied the exodus (“I will make you live in tents again, as in the festival days”). Israel will not just live in huts for a brief time as a commemoration of the exodus during the feast of tabernacles. Instead, they would reenact the exodus by returning to the wilderness to live in tents.[22]

Fourth, the portrayal of Israel’s restoration as a new exodus in Hosea 11 may have stirred Israel’s hope for a new Moses as well. On the heels of this promise of a new Exodus, Hosea reminded his readers: “By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded” (Hos 12:13, ESV). The portrayal of Moses as a prophet derives from the primary reference to Moses as a prophet in the Pentateuch, Deut 18:15–19 (cf. 34:10 which appears to allude to Num 12:6–8). The allusion to Deuteronomy 18 may imply that the new exodus will be accompanied by the appearance of a new deliverer as well, the prophet like Moses.[23] At the very least, Hosea associated the new exodus with the Messiah. Hosea 3:4–5 clearly indicated that Israel’s renewal and restoration would occur when Israel sought the Lord their God and “David their king . . . in the last days.”

Other OT Prophets Predicted a Second Exodus

The OT prophets understood the Pentateuchal threat of a new Egyptian bondage and the gracious promise of a new exodus and conquest. Like Hosea, they portrayed Israel’s deportation and exile as a second Egyptian captivity and pictured Israel’s return and restoration as a second exodus.

Isaiah (740–698 BC)

New exodus imagery appears in Isaiah in 4:5, 11:15–16, and is especially prominent in 40–55 (40:3–4; 43:16–21; 44:27; 48:20–21; 49:8–13; 50:2; 51:10–11; 52:4).[24] Although space will not permit an exploration of each of these references here, R. Watts summarized the data well:

Exodus typology, of some significance in chapters 1–39, is central to this salvation theme [in 40–55]. Although other canonical writings appeal to the Exodus tradition, here it is elevated to its most prominent status as a hermeneutic, and according to some commentators, shapes the heart of 40–55 even replacing the first Exodus as the saving event. The allusions cover the whole Exodus experience, and their appearance in the prologue, the end of the first section (48:20ff), and the epilogue (55:12f) stress its significance. . . . If Israel’s founding moment was predicated on Yahweh’s redemptive action in the Exodus from Egyptian bondage, then surely a second deliverance from exilic bondage, this time of Babylon, could scarcely be conceived of in other terms except those of the first Exodus?[25]

Micah (735–710 BC)

Several possible references to a new exodus appear in Micah. Micah warned that Israel would be forced into exile because of its sin (1:16). Yet Micah repeatedly promised a return from exile (2:12–13; 5:2–4). Micah 2:12 uses the imagery of God as Shepherd of his people and 2:13 describes Yahweh going before his people in their deliverance. Allen notes that the description of God as Shepherd is “a religious metaphor traditionally associated with the exodus” and that God going before his people echoes the “old motif” of God going before his people during the exodus in a pillar of cloud and of fire.[26] Micah 7:15 adds, “I will perform miracles for them as in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt” (ESV). This verse constitutes an example of “exodus theology” that portrays Israel’s restoration as a “kind of new exodus” akin to the exodus described in 6:4.[27]

Jeremiah (626–584 BC)

Jeremiah is steeped in references to the exodus tradition (2:6–7, 14, 18, 20, 36–37; 7:22, 25; 11:4, 7; 16:14; 31:32; 32:20; 34:13; 42:7–43:7; 44:12–14, 28). Of these texts, the clearest promise of a new exodus is Jer. 16:14–15:

“However, take note! The days are coming”­—the LORD’s declaration—“when it will no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought the Israelites from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As the LORD lives who brought the Israelites from the land of the north and from all the other lands where He had banished them.’ For I will return them to their land that I gave to their ancestors.”

A new exodus would overshadow the historic exodus as the pivotal event in the history of God’s people.

Ezekiel (593–571 BC)

After referring to the historic exodus in Ezek 20:6–10, Ezek 20:32–44 uses the themes of the Egyptian bondage, exodus, and wilderness judgment to describe Israel’s exile among the nations and coming restoration. Although Yahweh will judge Israel just as he judged their ancestors “in the wilderness of the land of Egypt,” he would “bring them out of the land where they live as foreign residents.” D. Block has argued that the passage promises a new exodus and that “the entire section is intentionally colored by the language of Exod. 6:6–8.”[28]

Zechariah (520–514 BC)

Zechariah 2:5 likely compares the divine protection that the city will enjoy to the theophanies of the exodus, both the pillar of fire that led the Israelites and the glory that descended on the tabernacle (Exod 3:2; 13:21–22; 19:18; 40:34–35; Lev 9:23–24; Deut 4:24). Furthermore, the Hebrew expression “I myself will be” utilizes the same verbal form as Exod 3:14 and seems to echo intentionally that text. Hence Baldwin commented, “God is both dealing with potential enemies and protecting His people, in the same way and on the same covenant basis as He did at the Exodus.”[29]

More importantly, Zech 10:10–12 employs exodus themes to describe the restoration of God’s people. Statements such as “I will bring them back from the land of Egypt and gather them from Assyria” (v. 10), “Yahweh will pass through the sea of distress and strike the waves of the sea” (v. 11), “the scepter of Egypt will come to an end” (v. 11), and “they will march in his name” (v. 12) recall the overthrow of Pharaoh, the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, the historic exodus, and the conquest of Canaan.[30]

Matthew’s Historical and Cultural Context

Most scholars are convinced that Matthew was a Jewish Christian author writing to a predominantly Jewish Christian audience in the first century. The view that Matthew interpreted Hos 11:1 as a promise of a new exodus led by the Messiah and that Matthew’s original readers would have understood this reference is supported by messianic expectations in rabbinic Judaism and in popular first-century Judaism described in Josephus and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Rabbis Expected a Second Exodus

Rabbinic literature portrays the Messiah as a second Moses and the deliverance that he brings as a second exodus. Rabbinic texts describe the correspondence between these persons and events and point to the cyclical nature of history as the basis for the correspondence.[31]

In Mekh. Exod. 12:42 (20a) r. Joshua claimed that the eschatological redemption would occur on the night of Passover since “In that night were they redeemed and in that night will they be redeemed in the future.”[32] In Midrash Psalms 90:17, r. Akiba argued for a similar correspondence between the events of the exodus and the redemption brought by the Messiah by interpreting Ps 90:15 in light of Deut 8:3 as teaching that the Messianic era would last 40 years to match the 40 years of affliction in the wilderness.[33] Pesikta Rabbati 1:7 also recorded Akiba’s interpretation but added that his “proof from Scripture” was Mic 7:15 which explicitly compared the days of the exodus to the marvelous events of the Messianic era.[34]

Numerous rabbinic texts quote the aphorism, “Like the first redeemer, so the last redeemer,” a statement which expressed the expectation that the Messiah as the prophet like Moses would reenact features of the ministry of Moses associated with the exodus. The aphorism appears in Pesikta Rabbati 15:10[35] and Ruth Rabbah 2:14 (in reference to appearance to Israel and then disappearance). The Messianic interpretation in Ruth Rabbah 2:14 ascribed to r. Jonah interprets Hos 2:16 and 12:10 as referring to the Messianic redemption in which Israel will return to the wilderness and live in tents as during the feast of tabernacles. The final argument supporting the claim that the Messiah would reenact the ministry of Moses involved an appeal to Eccl 1:9. Since “there is nothing new under the sun,” history is cyclical. The exodus phase of history including features like the miraculous provision of manna will recur when Messiah comes. L. Rabinowitz noted that the citation from Eccl 1:9 indicated that “Whatever is destined to occur in the future Redemption occurred in the first.”[36] Midrash Psalms 43 also highlighted similarities between the redemption from Egypt and the Messianic redemption. It pointed out that the first redemption had two redeemers, Moses and Aaron. Likewise, the eschatological redemption would have two redeemers, Elijah who was of the house of Aaron and the Messiah, the Isaianic servant.[37] Exodus Rabbah 3:12 also appealed to the cyclical nature of history affirmed by Eccl 1:9 (“that which has been is that which shall be”) to argue that the latter redemption will be marked by a divine utterance similar to that which accompanied the exodus from Egypt by noting that Gen 46:4, Exod 3:12, and Mal 4:5 were all instances in which Yahweh spoke using אָנֹכִי.[38] The best-known and most frequently quoted comparison of Moses and the exodus with Messiah and his redemption is Qoheleth Rabbah 1:9. It expounds the statement “That which has been is that which shall be” by quoting the familiar aphorism: “R. Berekiah said in the name of R. Isaac: As the first redeemer was, so shall the latter Redeemer be.” It confirms this statement by showing similarities between descriptions of Moses in the Pentateuch and descriptions of the Messiah in the Psalms and Prophets. Like Moses, the Messiah would ride on a donkey, cause manna to descend from heaven, and cause water to rise from the earth (Exod 4:20 and Zech 9:9; Exod 16:4 and Ps 72:16; Num 21:16 and Joel 3:18 respectively).[39]

First-century Jewish and Christian Literature Displays Popular            Expectation of a Second Exodus

Matthew 24:26 refers to some who would insist that Messiah had arrived by exclaiming, “Look, he’s in the wilderness!” Numerous commentators have pointed out that such a claim is likely based on the expectation of a reenactment of the exodus that would occur in connection with the coming of the Messiah.[40] Acts 21:38 seems to confirm this understanding since it refers to an Egyptian who claimed to be the Messiah and led 4,000 sicarri into the wilderness.

Josephus describes several different messianic claimants who led their followers into the wilderness including the Egyptian (Bell. 2.261), Jonathan (Bell. 7:438), and Theudas (Ant. 20.97). Although one may suspect that the claimants did so in search of seclusion and safety rather than in conscious imitation of the exodus, other features of the accounts leave little doubt that the claimants associated the wilderness with the exodus. Theudas, for example, promised to part the waters of the Jordan (Ant. 20.97) in an effort to reenact the parting of the Red Sea associated with Moses and the parting of the Jordan associated with Joshua. Jonathan likewise promised his followers that he would show them “signs and appearances” in the wilderness, likely a reference to the miracles and theophanies of the exodus.[41] Josephus portrays the flight into the wilderness as a consistent feature of Messianic movements.[42]

1QS 8:12–18 shows that the Qumran covenanters saw their retreat into the wilderness as a fulfillment of Isa 40:3–4. As shown earlier, this text marks the beginning of the section of Isaiah in which the new exodus is the primary theme. 4Q175 links the prophet like Moses prophecy and the oracle of Balaam regarding the scepter rising out of Israel. It appears that both texts were regarded as Messianic at Qumran. Thus the members of the community expected the Messiah to be a new Moses who would lead Israel into the wilderness and ultimately to the land of promise in a new exodus.

J. Jeremias wrote:

This typology [new exodus/new Moses] does not arise first in Rabb. literature or in the time after Aquiba. There are references to show that it goes back to a period prior to the NT. If it is not mentioned in the OT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, it finds attestation in the Damascus document, Josep. and the NT.[43]

The Literary Context of Matthew 2:15

Coherence with New Exodus/New Moses Motif in the Early      Chapters of Matthew

This view of Matthew’s use of Hos 11:1 suits the literary context of Matt 2:15 remarkably well. First, the structure and arrangement of the Matthean genealogy hints at the critical role of Jesus in bringing an end to Israel’s exile. The significant turning points are the rule of David, the Babylonian captivity, and the conception and birth of the Messiah. The structure implies that the Messiah will at last deliver God’s people from their slavery and exile. This deliverance was generally conceived as a reenactment of the exodus.

Second, the birth narrative in Matthew clearly portrays Jesus as a new Moses. The circumstances of Jesus’s infancy closely parallel those of Moses. Just as pharaoh murdered male Hebrew infants and just as Moses was providentially rescued from this slaughter, so Herod murdered the male infants of Bethlehem and Jesus was providentially rescued from this massacre. The striking parallels between the infancy narratives in Matthew and Exodus are heightened in the expansive retelling of the story of Moses in first-century Jewish tradition such as that preserved in Josephus (Ant. 2.9.2 §205). The portrayal of Jesus as a new Moses is not merely accomplished by correspondences in the story line. It is expressed even more definitively through verbal parallels that establish an indisputable connection between Jesus and Moses. The announcement of the angel to Joseph in Egypt (“those who sought the life of the child are now dead”) is a clear allusion to Exod 4:19 in which Yahweh speaks from the burning bush to Moses and states “those who sought your life are now dead.” These parallels do more than merely construct a typology in which Moses is the type and Jesus is the antitype. They portray Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18 that promised that God would send a prophet like Moses to Israel. Elsewhere the NT explicitly cites the Deuteronomy 18 prophecy and describes Jesus as the fulfillment (Acts 3:22; 7:37). Matthew does not. Nevertheless, the words of the Father at the transfiguration (“Listen to him”) are a clear allusion to the Deuteronomy 18 prophecy which serves to confirm that the numerous parallels between Jesus and Moses are intended to highlight Jesus’s identity as the prophet like Moses.

Coherence with Matthew’s Use of Jeremiah 31:15

This interpretation coheres well with Matthew’s use of Jer 31:15. Scholars often assume that Matthew interpreted the weeping of the mothers of the slain sons of Bethlehem as the fulfillment of this prophecy about Rachel weeping for her deceased children. Many interpreters insist that Matthew stripped this passage from its original context in Jeremiah and applied it without any sensitivity to his original meaning. However, Matthew was using this passage much like he used Hos 11:1. Jeremiah 31:15 was a description of the grief of the nation of Israel over the Babylonian exile. Rachael wept for her children who “were no more” because they were in exile in Babylon (Jeremiah 29).

Jeremiah specifies that this lamentation for the exiles arose from Ramah, a town located about five miles north of Jerusalem and through which the exiles passed on their way to Babylon. Bethlehem was located about five miles south of Jerusalem on the same road along which the exiles traveled. Jewish traditions saw great importance in the fact that Rachel was buried in Bethlehem. Some later rabbis suggested that she was buried there near the road on which the exiles traveled so she could pray for the exiles as they passed by.

Matthew did not cite the passage because it was associated with Bethlehem. Instead, he cited the passage because it depicted Israel as in exile and awaiting deliverance. Matthew’s brief quotation assumes his reader’s familiarity with the promise of deliverance that immediately followed it:

They shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country. (Jer 31:17)

Matthew recognized that Jeremiah himself saw this deliverance as both eschatological and messianic. The eschatological and messianic nature of the deliverance is abundantly clear in Jer 30:8–9:

And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

The passage from Jeremiah that Matthew quotes also immediately precedes Jeremiah’s promise of the new covenant (Jer 31:31–34), a covenant that Jesus initiated through his sacrificial death (Matt 26:28).

Matthew deemed it appropriate to cite this eschatological and messianic text in the context of the description of the slaughter of the male infants of Bethlehem because that event showed that God’s people were still in exile in a sense. They were still under the thumb of a foreign oppressor and waiting for the Lord to raise up David their king to deliver them.


Matthew recognized that Hos 11:1 was a reference to the historic exodus. Matthew was attentive to the fact that Hosea repeatedly used new exodus imagery to depict deliverance from the Assyrian exile (2:14–15; 8:13; 9:6; 11:5). Hosea used the image of the Egyptian bondage to portray Israel’s exile and thus utilized the image of the exodus to portray Israel’s restoration. Matthew quoted Hos 11:1 because he saw Jesus’ return from Egypt as marking the beginning of this new exodus.

Matthew rightly interpreted the reference to the historic exodus as anticipating an eschatological exodus, an exodus led by the prophet like Moses, the Davidic Messiah, Jesus Christ. Matthew did not likely regard the “son” in Hos 11:1 as an explicit and direct reference to the Messiah. He recognized that “son” was a reference to the covenant people. In Matthew’s use of the text, “son” is a reference to the Messiah inclusively but not exclusively. Matthew knew that the Messiah will indeed participate in this exodus, but he is more than a mere participant. He is the leader of this exodus, the prophet like Moses who will redeem God’s people much like the hero of old. Matthew assumes his readers’ familiarity with Hos 12:13: “The LORD brought Israel from Egypt by a prophet, and Israel was tended by a prophet.” The statement looks back to the primary reference to Moses as a prophet in the Pentateuch, Deut 18:15–19 (cf. 34:10 which appears to allude to Num 12:6–8). The allusion to Deuteronomy 18 implies that the new exodus will be accompanied by the appearance of a new deliverer as well, the prophet like Moses whom Matthew recognized as the Messiah.

These expectations are well-represented in the Old Testament prophets and in ancient Jewish literature (Jos.; Pesiq. Rab.; Midr. Pss.; Mek. Exod.; Ruth Rab.; Exod. Rab.; Qoh. Rab.). The theme of the new exodus also coheres well with Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the new Moses throughout Matthew 2 and his use of Jer 31:15, since this text in its original literary context is sandwiched between two promises of Israel’s return from exile. The slaughter of the innocents shows that Israel is still in exile and awaiting deliverance.[44] Jesus’ journey out of Egypt is the prelude to that coming deliverance, the initiation of the eschatological exodus. Consequently, Matthew’s use of the Hosea quotation is fully appropriate and sensitive to the original historical and literary context of the passage.


[1] Martin Pickup, “New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament: The Theological Rationale of Midrashic Exegesis,” JETS 51 (2008): 371.

[2] Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell, eds., Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012).

[3] See Pickup, “New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament,” 374–79. According to Sailhamer, Erasmus claimed that Julian the Apostate was the first to challenge the legitimacy of Matthew’s interpretation of Hos 11:1 (“Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15,” WTJ 63 [2001]: 87). Erasmus was apparently referring to a fragment preserved in Jerome’s Latin commentary on Hos 3:11 that ascribes to Julian the quote: “The words that were written concerning Israel [Hos 11:1] Matthew the Evangelist transferred to Christ [Matt 2:15], that he might mock the simplicity of those of the Gentiles who believed.”

[4] Craig Blomberg (“Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], 8) argued that Matt 2:15 is “a classic example of pure typology.” See also D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Matthew-Mark (EBC 9; 2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 118–20; C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of New Testament Theology (London: Nisbet, 1953), 103; D. E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 29; J. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1–11:1 (Concordia Commentary; St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 139–43; L. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 42–44; G. Osborne, Matthew, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 99; T. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 73. Although some of these commentators blend the Israel typology view with other approaches, Albright and Mann dismiss other alternatives, especially the new Moses view: “. . . Matthew’s OT quotations see Jesus as living, in himself, through the spiritual experience of a whole people, and not as an individual who becomes another Moses” (W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew [AB 26; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971], 18).

[5] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 123.

[6] B. Lindars, New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of the Old Testament Quotations (London: SCM Press, 1961), 216–19.

[7] D. Hill, The Gospel of Matthew (New Century Bible; London: Oliphants, 1978), 85; W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, Matthew (3 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988–1997), 1:262–63. Walt Kaiser characterized Lindars’s view as an “ingenius suggestion” but one rendered doubtful by text-critical questions surrounding Num 24:7–8. See Walt Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 47–53, esp. 51. Some early Christians believed that Matt 2:15 actually quoted Num 24:8 rather than Hos 11:1. An example is the scribe behind the marginal note in Codex Sinaiticus at 2:15 (ΕΝΑΡΙΘΜΟΙΣ). This view probably arose among readers who were more familiar with the LXX than with the Hebrew text. Eusebius of Caesarea interpreted Num 24:3–9 as a reference to the Messiah and his deliverance from Egypt (e.g., Dem. ev. 9.4). Although he preferred the view that Matt 2:15 alluded to Hos 11:1, he suggested that if one concluded that Hos 11:1 referred to Israel then Num 24:3–9 was the source of Matthew’s quotation.

[8] G. K. Beale, “The Use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15: One More Time,” JETS 55 (2012): 697–715, esp. 700.

[9] Ibid., 703.

[10] Ibid., 709.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 710.

[13] Craig Keener, A Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 108–9; Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (vol. 1 of Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch [München: Beck, 1922], 85).

[14] Richard Hayes, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2016), 11.

[15] This is not to say that the article will support Beale’s interpretation in every detail. I arrived at my conclusions independently of Beale and discovered his research late in the process of my study. However, my view agrees with the broader contours of Beale’s position.

[16] Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are from the HCSB.

[17] D. J. Reimer, “Concerning Return to Egypt: Deuteronomy 17:16 and 26:68 Reconsidered,” in Studies in the Pentateuch (ed. J. Emerton; VTSup 41; Leiden: Brill, 1990), 217–29. On the difficult phrase “in ships,” see D. G. Schley, Jr., “Yahweh Will Cause You to Return to Egypt in Ships’ (Deuteronomy 28:68),” VT 35 (1985): 369–72. The reference to a previous statement regarding never seeing the route to Exodus again likely points to Exod 14:13: “The Egyptians you see today, you will never see again.” For a discussion of the new exodus theme in Deuteronomy similar to my treatment, see Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy (NAC; Nashville: Holman Reference, 1994), 368–69 (see also 370, 372).

[18] For a summary of these and other important texts from the twelve minor prophets, see M. Shepherd, The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (New York: Peter Lang, 2011), 22–24.

[19] The most natural sense of the Hebrew (לֹא) is as a simple negative. Thus the sentence bluntly denies that Israel will return to Egypt (ESV and CSB). The problem with this translation is the repeated insistence elsewhere in Hosea that Israel will indeed return to Egypt (11:11). Such a tension may be resolved in several ways. First, the denial in 11:5 may only indicate that Egypt is to be understood metaphorically rather than literally. Thus Egypt refers to captivity and slavery, which in Hosea’s context would occur through deportation to Assyria (D. Garrett, Hosea, Joel [NAC; Nashville: B&H, 1997], 225–26). Second, the clause may be interrogative and introduce a polar question in which the negativeלֹא  implies a positive answer to the question (NIV: “Will they not return to Egypt?”). HALOT notes that  לֹאsometimes functions as a substitute for הֲלֹא. See B. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, ID: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 684–85, esp. n. 48. Third, the לֹא may serve as a substitute for the emphatic particle הֲלֹוֹא resulting in the marginal reading in the ESV: “Surely they will return to Egypt.”

[20] The translation in the NIV is probably superior to the ESV at this point. The ESV reads: “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king.” However, this translation seems to contradict the promise of future deliverance from Egypt in 11:11. See the appendix to the Beale article for an argument against the ESV rendering. Duane Garrett summarizes the chapter well: “The first strophe, vv. 1–5, focuses on the exodus and ends with the warning that God will undo the exodus and send Israel to a new Egypt, Assyria, and into servitude to a new Pharaoh, the Assyrian king. The second strophe, vv. 6–12, concerns the possibility that Israel will become like the cities of the plain, that is, eternally annihilated. Yahweh recoils from this and promises a new exodus” (Hosea, Joel, 219).

[21] Blomberg also noted that although Hos 11:1 was “a reference to the exodus, pure and simple,” the following verses portrayed Israel’s future restoration as a reenactment of the exodus. Blomberg, under the influence of McCartney and Enns, rejects Sailhamer’s view that Hosea contains a messianic reading of the exodus. See Blomberg, “Matthew,” 7–8. For a defense of Sailhamer’s messianic reading in response to McCartney and Enns, see Shepherd, The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament, 18–28.

[22] J. Jeremias, “Μωυσῆς,” TDNT 4.861–2.

[23] A final appeal to the exodus tradition appears in Hos 13:4–5.

[24] Note that Pesikta Rabbati 31:10 frequently quotes from the new exodus texts of Isaiah and argues that these promises will be fulfilled when the Messiah gathers Jewish exiles from all over the earth and reassembles them in the land of Israel.

[25] See Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark (WUNT 88; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1997), 79–82 (emphasis original).

[26] Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 302–3.

[27] Ibid., 131. Micah 7:15 would become particularly important for the new Moses/new exodus themes in rabbinic eschatology. This text would be the basis for r. Akiba’s claim that the messianic redemption of God’s people would mirror the exodus events.

[28] Daniel Isaac Block, The Book of Ezekiel (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 650–51.

[29] J. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (TOTC; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1972), 107.

[30] These features prompted G. Klein to comment: “Presumably, Egypt serves to remind the reader of the exodus since the Egyptian bondage represents one of the most important eras of persecution in Israel’s existence. Without doubt, however, the exodus from Egyptian slavery does symbolize the greatest expression of divine salvation for the nation during Israel’s long history. Numerous prophetic passages view Egypt as a metaphor—rooted in deep historical experience—for the oppressive lands out of which the Lord would gather the nation in the messianic kingdom” (George L. Klein, Zechariah [NAC 21B; Nashville: B&H, 2007], 303).

[31] Davies and Allison note, “Finally, in ancient Jewish sources concerned with eschatological matters, the redemption from Egypt often serves as a type for the messianic redemption, and the prospect of another exodus is held forth: before the consummation, the pattern, exodus/return, will repeat itself” (Matthew, 1:263). They cite in support Isa 40:3–4; 42:14–55:13; Ezek 20:33–44; Hos 2:14–15; 1 Macc 2:29–30; 1QS 8:12–18; Matt 24:26; Acts 21:38; Rev 12:6, 14; Josephus Ant. 20.97; Bell. 2.259, 261; 7.438; and SB 1:85–88.

[32] Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael (2nd ed.; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 1:79.

[33] W. G. Braude, trans., The Midrash on Psalms (Midrash Tehillim) (ed. Leon Nemoy; 2 vols.; Yale Judaica Series 13; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 2:97–98.

[34] William G. Braude, trans., Pesikta Rabbati (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 1:46–47. Braude acknowledged that most translated the question, “And how many are the days of the Messiah?” He based his translation on the insights of Yehuda Eben Shemuel (see n. 51).

[35] Braude, Pesikta Rabbati, 319.

[36] L. Rabinowitz, trans., Ruth Rabbah, Midrash Rabbah 8 (ed. H. Freeman and Maurice Simon; 3rd ed.; New York: Soncino Press, 1983), 65.

[37] Midrash Psalms 1:445.

[38] Exodus Rabbah 3:12. S. M. Lehrman, trans., Exodus, Midrash Rabbah (London: Soncino Press, 1951), 63.

[39] Qoheleth Rabbah 1:9.

[40] See Martin Hengel, The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 AD (trans. David Smith; 2nd ed.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 229–33; Keener, Matthew, 582; Ulrich Luz, Matthew (trans. James Crouch; 3 vols.; Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001–2007), 3:198–99. Davies and Allison note that the desert “was presumably a well-known haunt of messianic pretenders who sought to imitate the wilderness miracles of Moses” (Matthew, 3:353). Gerhard Kittle pointed out that Judaism often associated the wilderness with the Messianic age and added: “There thus arises the belief that the last and decisive age of salvation will begin in the ἔρημος, and that there the Messiah will appear. This belief led revolutionary Messianic movements to make for the ἔρημος (Ac. 21:38)” (Kittle, “ἔρημος,” TDNT 2.658–59). This belief was viewed as the background of Matt 24:26 and Rev 12:6, 14.

[41] Rebecca Gray is more doubtful of the association of some of the sign prophets with Moses and the exodus. See her Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 112–44. However, even Gray acknowledges that “In the case of Theudas and the Egyptian, the influence of the exodus and conquest traditions is clear” (137) and “Theudas promised a new exodus, or perhaps a new conquest . . . .” (138).

[42] See Jos. War 2.13.4 §258–59; Kittle, “ἔρημος,” TDNT 2.658–59; J. Jeremias, “Μωυσῆς,” TDNT 4.861–62; Hengel, Zealots, 249–53, esp. 252–53. See also Horsley, Richard A. “Popular Prophetic Movements at the Time of Jesus: Their Principal Features and Social Origins,” JSNT 26 (1986): 3–27, esp. 9; idem, “‘Like One of the Prophets of Old’: Two Types of Popular Prophets at the Time of Jesus,” CBQ 47 (1985): 435–63, esp. 456.

[43] J. Jeremias, “Μωυσῆς,” TDNT 4.861.

[44] For an overlooked piece of evidence supporting the view that Israel remained in exile awaiting deliverance, see m. Yad 4:4. In a debate concerning permitting an Ammonite proselyte to enter the congregation, r. Joshua succeeded in convincing an entire house of midrash including r. Gamaliel that the population of Israel was so ethnically mixed that one could not confidently distinguish Israelites from Ammonites. His argument was based on the premise, apparently accepted by all involved in the discussion, that Israel remained in exile. For extensive discussions of the view that Israel remained in exile, see N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 1; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992); and Craig A. Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel,” Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (ed. Carey Newman; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999), 77–100.