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Matthew 2:13-15 – “The King’s Reception, Part 3a: Preparing for a New Exodus”

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Verse 13 begins the second half of Matthew chapter two. Collectively, this chapter presents the various receptions Jesus received at His coming. From the Gentile nations, the born king of the Jews received submissive worship and offerings of lavish gifts. The remaining verses turn to view the reception the king received from His people, Israel.


So, after they departed, Behold! An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph by a dream saying, ‘Get up! Take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, because Herod is about to seek the child to destroy Him. So, getting up, he took the child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt. And he remained there until the death of Herod so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying ‘Out of Egypt I call My Son.’


The entire point of 2:13-23 is that Israel is not ready to receive her king. There is a new beginning that must occur before the king will receive the honor and worship that the Gentiles have already shown. That new beginning will resemble Israel’s first beginning in that a new exodus is here alluded to in vv. 13-15. Matthew’s presentation of the preservation of Jesus for a new exodus comes in three straightforward parts: (a) A Providential Flight, (b) Practical Faithfulness, and (c) Prophetic Fulfillment.


Providential Flight (v. 13)


It is interesting to note that Matthew uses the term ἀναχωρέω (depart/return/withdraw) in vv. 12&13 to describe the magi’s departure. Matthew reveals his ability to write when he connects this paragraph to the preceding section while at the same time making a clear break. The reception of the king by the Gentiles is complete. The reception of the king by His people is here presented.


Timing (v. 13a)


So, after they departed


The magi of v. 12 are obviously in view. Their departure sets off a chain of events that effects the people of Bethlehem as well as the mad monarch back in Jerusalem. The fact that the magi traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem at night (vv. 9-10), were warned in a dream (v. 12) as was Joseph immediately after the magi departed (v. 13) indicates that all the events described in vv. 8-14 occurred in a single night. Where the safety of the child is concerned, not a moment is to be lost. As was the case in 1:20, the appearance of the angel is most timely.[1]


Message (v. 13b)


Behold! An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph by a dream saying, ‘Get up! Take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you.


Matthew introduces this dream in exactly the same manner as he did in 1:20. The interjection ἰδού (behold) draws attention to something outside the norm, though one might say that an angel from God appearing to Joseph in a dream is becoming less and less exceptional. Much of the language is repeated from the first angelic appearance. Three imperatives are used to communicate the divine message.


The participle that introduces the command “get up” (ἐγερθεὶς) reflects Joseph’s immediate response in 1:24 (ἐγερθεὶς) while the imperative itself “take” (παράλαβε) reflects Joseph’s original orders concerning Mary in 1:20 “to take…as a wife” (παραλαβεῖν). The child and His mother are viewed as an inseparable unit. Though he is not the natural father of the child, Joseph is placed in the role of caretaker and provider. It is his unique duty to safeguard David’s Seed.[2]


The second imperative “flee!” (φεῦγε) introduces a host of questions because of where Joseph is commanded to flee to. It appears that Joseph brought his family to Bethlehem with permanent intentions. It is difficult to explain the transition from homeless (Lk. 2:7) to house (Matt. 2:1) unless Joseph planned on staying in Bethlehem. Yet the place of David’s beginnings must be changed out for the place of Israel’s beginnings. From Bethlehem, Joseph is to flee to Egypt.


Many consider a connection with Joseph’s flight to Egypt with Jacob’s reluctant immigration (Gen. 46) due to the fact that the latter event sets up the Exodus from Egypt. While it is true that God providentially protected Jacob and the budding tribes of Israel during a life-threatening famine by bringing them to Egypt, it would be an overstatement to state that they fled to Egypt. In fact, it should make us pause to consider anyone fleeing to Egypt as a good thing.


Since the Exodus, Egypt is always associated with bondage from which Yhwh redeemed His people. The life that was led in Egypt is a life that is dead. The future Israelite king was forbidden from ever leading the people back to Egypt for any reason (Deut. 17:16). If ever Yhwh led the people back to Egypt it would be as a curse because of their disobedience (Deut. 28:68). Many commentators acknowledge that Egypt is a common destination for Israelites who are in trouble to flee to, but fail to recognize that most of those Israelites are what we would call “bad guys”. Hadad the Edomite escaped David’s campaign against Edom by fleeing to Egypt (1 Kings 11:14-22). Jeroboam the son of Nabat who made Israel to sin fled Solomon by running to Egypt (1 Kings 11:26-40). After the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the remaining Israelites assassinated Babylon’s governor in one final act of rebellion before fleeing to Egypt (2 Kings 25:26). The point is this: Historically, Egypt is a refuge for rebels and usurpers. Ironically, the usurper remains in Jerusalem while the rightful king is forced to flee to Egypt.


A third imperative frames the command in an indefinite light. The angel orders Joseph to flee to Egypt and remain (ἴσθι) there until he is told otherwise. Joseph can expect a third revelatory dream sometime in the future. There is no indication how long Joseph, and his family will have to remain in Egypt, only that it is extremely important that this task be undertaken immediately.


Purpose (v. 13c)


Because Herod is about to seek the child to destroy Him.


Here is the first explicit statement that Herod’s schemes were sinister from the beginning. While he was gathering information (vv. 4-8) the reader was not told why Herod wanted to know the location of Messiah’s birth. When he ordered the magi to return to him (v. 8) and they were warned in a dream not to (v. 12) we were never told why. There were enough breadcrumbs for us to understand that Herod was being less than forthcoming with the magi, and we certainly know there’s something foul afoot when they were warned not to return, but only now do we realize the full extent of Herod’s schemes. Herod is about to come looking for the child in order to destroy Him.


There is an obvious allusion back to Moses at this point when we see a powerful monarch seeking the life of an infant. That allusion will grow when we consider v. 16 and the mandated infanticide that parallels Pharoah’s order (Ex. 1:22) and his hunt for Moses (Ex. 2:15). This allusion is important and intentional within the context of the historic Exodus and the expectation of a new Exodus.


Practical Faithfulness (vv. 14-15a)


So, getting up, he took the child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt. And he remained there until the death of Herod.


The beauty of language is that sometimes the author does more than tell his audience about various events. A gifted author is able to show his readers what is going on through his choice of words. Matthew could have simply stated that Joseph did exactly what the angel commanded to the letter. Matthew accomplishes this same idea but does so by describing Joseph’s actions in the same terms used to command him. The imperatives used by the angel are transformed into indicatives to describe Joseph’s response. The angel commanded Joseph to “get up, take the child and His mother” (ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ) so Joseph “getting up took the child and His mother” (ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ). Joseph was commanded to “remain” in Egypt until commanded otherwise (ἴσθι ἐκεῖ ἕως ἄν εἴπω σοι) and so Joseph “remained” in Egypt until commanded otherwise (ἦν ἐκεῖ ἕως). Matthew used this same technique back in 1:20-25 when describing Joseph’s obedience as exact and immediate. Every detail that he was commanded he performed, losing not a minute.


Verse 14 adds that Joseph took the child and His mother by night. The text reads as if the magi and Joseph were warned through dreams occurring at the same time and passed each other in the dark as one party journeyed east and the other headed southwest. Joseph did not wait for daylight but immediately got up and got moving. There is no time like the present for obedience. As the magi “departed” (ἀναχωρέω) for their homeland, Joseph “departed” (ἀναχωρέω) for Egypt.


Here begins a theme that Matthew will return to throughout the rest of His gospel. This root appears no less than ten times in Matthew’s gospel, four of which are found in this same chapter (2:12, 13, 14, 22; 4:12; 9:24; 12:15; 14:13; 15:21; 27:5). Six of the ten uses (2:14, 22; 4:12; 12:15; 14:13; 15:21) refer to Jesus withdrawing or departing from a certain region (Judea) or from the public’s eye because he either received significant news (like the incarceration and later execution of John the Baptist) or because the people are attempting to either harm Him or hinder His plan. This lexical cue is Matthew’s way of exposing God’s sovereignty over the context. Jesus constantly withdraws to avoid death and defamation. This begs the question later why He didn’t withdraw/depart from Jerusalem just before His crucifixion. The answer remains the same: God is sovereign over the situation.


There is another precedent that is begun in this text: Judea offers nothing but death for Jesus. There is a reason that Jesus does not spend much time in Judea, preferring to spend most of His earthly ministry in the far north of Galilee. Ever since His birth, the land of Judah, His birthright, offers nothing but death to Jesus, the son of David, the Messiah. Every time Jesus appears in the southern regions of Judea and Jerusalem, someone is trying to kill Him. Back in the days of the divided monarchy, the southern kingdom of Judah was considered the faithful kingdom who remained loyal to the house of David. Now it seems that the south has taken the ethos of the north, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; to your tents, O Israel!” (1 Kings 12:16).


Prophetic Fulfillment (v. 15b)


So that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying ‘Out of Egypt I call My Son.’


This is supposed to provide the reader with an explanation of why Joseph is commanded to take Israel’s Messiah to Egypt, the place of bondage and refuge of rebels. The ἵνα conjunction with the subjunctive (πληρωθῇ – might be fulfilled) communicates purpose. God ordered Joseph to Egypt for the purpose of fulfilling previous prophecy. It is worth noting that, as in 1:22, Matthew specifically states that this word came from the Lord (ὑπὸ κυρίου) as the original agent only to be spoken through the prophet (διὰ τοῦ προφήτου) as the intermediate agent.[3] Matthew has a perfect understanding of the doctrine of inspiration.

There is little agreement among scholars regarding the meaning and significance of this text. It seems obvious that Matthew is quoting Hosea 11:1 at this point. What is not at first obvious is why. Matthew uses this text in his second of ten “fulfillment” formulas (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9) yet it is not clear how these events fulfill the passage in Hosea.


While modern commentators offer several different explanations for Matthew’s intended meaning, there is one major assumption that must be recognized: The context and meaning of Hosea 11:1. Rather than assuming we know the meaning of Hosea’s passage, perhaps we should return to Hosea and confirm what we know.


The Prophetic Context (Hosea 11:1)


The prophecy of Hosea is most appropriate at this juncture. The prophet’s name (הוֹשֵׁעַ - savior) shares a root (ישׁע – to save) with the Old Testament “Joshua” (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ – Yhwh saves) which is the Hebrew equivalent of “Jesus”. This is a book about salvation.


The first three chapters of Hosea reveal the structure of the entire book. Chapter 1 provides a picture of Israel’s infidelity to Yhwh through the actions of the prophet and his adulterous wife. In the midst of this infidelity, Yhwh promises judgment against the adulterous nation while at the same time assuring them that His covenant promises remain valid. Chapter 2 then begins to discuss the looming judgment in terms of a second exodus. It is not enough for Israel to have experienced one exodus from the bondage of Egypt. She will have to endure another wilderness, stripped of her support and comfort so that no other savior is left to her other than Yhwh. This second exodus thus becomes a major theme throughout Hosea’s prophecy. Chapter 3 is the briefest account of Israel’s restoration in the Bible. The prophet again returns to the imagery of his own wife to illustrate the relationship Yhwh has with Israel. Their restoration will be followed by a time of probation that is not joyous, but it will give way to goodness when they repent and come trembling to submit themselves to Yhwh who is David their king (3:5). The second exodus ends with Israel’s redemption, repentance, and restoration.


This theme continues throughout Hosea’s prophecy and is thus at the heart of his discussion at the beginning of chapter 11. It is obvious that Hosea speaks of the historic exodus in 11:1, yet he has already established a precedent of using the original exodus as a vehicle to anticipate a new and second exodus that has yet to happen. In other words, every discussion in Hosea regarding the exodus has at least one eye on the future and is not exclusively looking backwards. To this we must add the purposeful use of “son” by the prophet in connection to Israel.


Hosea normally refers to Israel in the context of the husband/wife relationship rather than the context of father/son. This language does have precedence however, and that precedence also connects back to the original exodus: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yhwh, Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’ but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn’” (Ex. 4:22-23). Because Pharaoh threatened Yhwh’s son, Yhwh killed Pharaoh’s son.


The biblical theology of Yhwh’s son takes on a new layer when Yhwh establishes His covenant with David: “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Sam. 7:12-16). This connection reaches back to Ex. 22 and confirms that David’s seed will be a representative of the nation. He will function as Yhwh’s son as a corporate head for the nation. Yhwh will deal with this son as He would with the nation.


From this point, there is but one step to take and that is to connect the title of “son” to Yhwh’s Messiah. David does this for us in Ps. 2. David explicitly mentions three players in this psalm: (1) the raging nations, (2) Yhwh, and (3) Yhwh’s Anointed or Messiah. In vv. 7&12 this “Anointed” one is explicitly called Yhwh’s son with various implications of sonship coming out in vv. 6, 8, and 9. By the time Hosea writes in the 8th century BC, the title of Yhwh’s son has already been attributed to Israel’s king in the context of corporate solidarity for the nation and is the expected title of the coming Messiah. In other words, when Hosea says that Yhwh called His son out of Egypt, he is not only anticipating a future exodus but is also linking that exodus with Messiah. Hosea anticipates a second exodus led by a new David of a repentant Israel.[4]


The Apostolic Context (Matthew’s Use of Hosea)


Rather than assuming that Matthew rejects Hosea’s understanding or that Hosea has no earthly clue what he is writing about, let us assume that Hosea wrote very purposefully and specifically, and that Matthew understands, affirms, and supports Hosea’s thesis. Matthew uses Hosea’s text to show his readers that Jesus is the new David who will lead His people Israel in a new exodus and will engage in a new conquest of the land. For this new exodus, Matthew will make the links between Jesus and Moses even more clear (vv. 16-18). Regarding the subsequent conquest, Jesus’ name (Joshua) and location (at the Jordan)will draw connections to Joshua in the upcoming text.


The point is simple. Matthew does not alter Hosea’s meaning at all. Rather, he understands the trajectory of Hosea’s prophecy and correctly points to Jesus as the one who will bring about a fulfillment of it. The flight to Egypt is not a fulfillment of the prophecy concerning a second exodus. However, the flight to Egypt is necessary so that this prophecy might be fulfilled. Matthew is anticipating a second exodus.


Conclusion


We should be careful with arrogant thoughts and words that diminish the Scriptures. When men wrongly and sinfully state that the writers of the New Testament are “reinterpreting” the Old Testament or that Scripture is given a “fuller” or “new” meaning, we must recognize these statements as warning flags. The apostles write in the same manner of the prophets by continuing to develop themes with additional detail. None of them change, alter, or reinterpret what the authors before them contributed. In other words, any misunderstanding of how a New Testament writer uses the Old Testament should be solved by returning to the Old Testament. Matthew knew what Hosea meant. If only modern commentators understood Hosea, they might start believing and obeying Matthew.


[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 121. [2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 74. [3] Charles Quarles, Matthew, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p. 29. [4] Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018), p. 105-110.

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