IN MATTHEW 2:13-18
by Doug Ward
One major goal of the Gospel of Matthew is to convince readers that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised in the Hebrew scriptures. In order to achieve this goal, Matthew often makes connections between events in the life and ministry of Jesus and particular scriptural passages (e.g., Matt. 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23; 3:3; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:18-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:9-10).
Some of Matthew's references to the Hebrew scriptures have been sources of controversy among biblical scholars. In the cases of Matt. (which cites Hosea 11:1) and Matt. (which quotes Jer. 31:15), Matthew has often been accused of reading things into the text which were not originally intended by the prophets themselves.
Christian believers might brush aside these charges on the basis of their belief in the divine inspiration of the New Testament scriptures. When Matthew, guided by the Holy Spirit, refers to a scriptural passage, it must mean what he says it means. After all, weren't Jesus' disciples personally taught by their Master the details of how His life, death and resurrection were foretold throughout the Tanakh1? (Luke 24:27, 44-45)
Still, it is important for Christians to be able to answer such questions, for at least two reasons. First, Matthew was not merely interested in encouraging those who already accepted Jesus as the Messiah. He also wanted to make a persuasive argument to those not initially inclined to believe the claims of Jesus and his followers. In order to understand Matthew's argument-and to answer modern skeptics-we should know as much as possible about the nature of his reasoning. Second, a study of these issues can yield insights into the way that the New Testament writers interpreted the Hebrew scriptures. An understanding of the hermeneutical principles that might have been employed by Matthew can help inform our own biblical interpretation.
Let us take a closer look, then, at Matthew's use of the words of the prophets in Matt. 2:13-18. When we take into account the larger contexts of Hosea 11:1 and Jer. 31:15, we will see that his use of these passages is indeed consistent with their original intended meanings.
Protecting God's Son in
In Matthew 2:13-14 we read that Joseph and Mary, following the
instructions of an angel, fled with the young child Jesus from
At first glance, though, the connection between Matthew 2:13-15 and Hosea 11:1 is not at all obvious. Two questions immediately come to mind:
(1) Since Hosea 11:1 looks backward in time to the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, in what sense can it be said to look forward in time to an event in the life of Jesus?
(2) Since Hosea 11:1 speaks of
To answer these questions, we will need to take a closer look at Hosea's prophecy.
The book of Hosea is believed to have been written in the eighth century
B.C., shortly before the time when the northern ten tribes of
The first three chapters of the book illustrate this contrast through the
relationship between Hosea and his wife Gomer. Gomer, after the birth of their third child, left Hosea and
lived in an adulterous relationship with another man. But later, following
instructions from God, Hosea took Gomer back (see
Hosea 3). Similarly, sinful
The rest of the book can be divided into three sections , in which God
brings three major charges against
(a) lack of knowledge of God (4:2-6:3);
(b) lack of covenantal love (6:4-11:11);
(c) lack of truth (-14:9).
In each of these sections, a promise of hope for the future follows the presentation of the charges.
The verse quoted by Matthew, Hosea 11:1, comes
toward the end of part (b) in the above outline. In this section of
Chapter 11 contrasts
By looking at Hosea 11 in its context, we can see an important thematic
connection between this chapter and Matt. 2:13-15. Hosea 11 describes God's
past protection and preservation of His people and promises that God would
always watch over
But the theme of God's faithfulness, preservation, and protection is not the
only link between Matthew 2 and Hosea 11. It is also important to note the
As a singular word used to denote a collection of people, ``son'' is similar to the word ``seed'' (Hebrew zera) in the book of Genesis. ``Seed'' is widely understood as a messianic title, referring both to a collection of descendants of Eve, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to a special male descendant through whom blessing would come to all nations (Gen. 3:15; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). 2 In particular, the apostle Paul presents this interpretation in Gal. 3:16.
In much the same way, ``son'' had also come to be regarded as a title for the Messiah by Matthew's time, on the basis of three scriptures-2 Sam , Ps. 2:7, and Ps. 89:26-27. The New Testament church viewed each of these passages as a reference to Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (see Luke 1:32-33; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5-6; 5:5).
For Matthew, ``Son of God'' is a very important messianic appellation. He makes a special point of emphasizing that Jesus is the Son of God, including in his gospel the testimony of a number of witnesses to that effect (Matt. 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16; 27:54).
When we take all of this into account, the full connection between Hosea 11
and Matthew 2:13-15 becomes clear. Hosea 11:1 states that God had protected His
son, the nation of
Matthew records that Joseph and Mary escaped to
Matthew goes on to say in verses 17-18 that this incident fulfilled the words of Jer. 31:15:
``A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.''
Again, an examination of this verse in its context will elucidate the connection with Matthew 2.
There has been debate over the centuries about the exact location of Ramah
and the tomb of Rachel [1, pp. 53-54]. Genesis 35:16-20; 48:7 says that
Rachel's burial place was in the general vicinity of
However, there are indications in Jeremiah 31 that Rachel's weeping was not confined to that event or era. Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser explains that the Hebrew in Jer. 31:15 suggests that the weeping is an ongoing activity [1, pp. 54-55]. During what time period, then, would it take place?
Jeremiah 31:15 is located in a section of Jeremiah's prophecy (chapters
30-33) that is often called the ``Book of Comfort.'' These chapters picture a
time when the tribes of
Since the days of Jeremiah, the descendants of
When the New Testament writers make reference to the Hebrew scriptures, their purpose is often to recall a context rather than to quote an isolated proof text. Matthew's citations of Hosea 11:1 and Jeremiah 31:15 are two examples of this phenomenon. 3 These and other New Testament allusions to the scriptures become clearer when we study them carefully in their historical, canonical, and prophetic contexts.
1. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., ``Respecting the Old
Testament Context: Matthew's Use of Hosea and Jeremiah,'' pp. 43-57 in The Uses of the Old Testament in the New,
2. Homer A. Kent, Jr., ``A Study in Hermeneutics: Matthew's Use of the Old Testament,'' Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 121 (1964), pp. 34-43.
1Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym for the threefold division of the Old Testament into the Torah (``Law''), the Nebi'im (``Prophets''), and the Ketubim (``Writings'').
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