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The discussion regarding the NT authors’ use of the OT is a popular topic right now. There are multiple views out there explaining different approaches. [1] No matter what view you take, everyone who writes on this subject is expected to explain Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” This article seeks to explain Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1.

Matthew 2:15 fits into a larger pericope beginning in 1:1-3:17. The point to the opening section is to prove Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David and the Son of God. The lineage proves Jesus is the rightful king. The section ends with God, the Father saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

In 2:13 Matthew begins his commentary on Jesus early life. The point of 2:13-2:23 reveals God, the Father protects His Son from the harm of a wicked, oppressive ruler named Herod. The Father protects the Son.

Herod learns about Jesus from the Magi (2:2). Herod is troubled and seeks to destroy the child (2:13). He tells the Magi to find the new-born king so he can go worship Him (2:8). But this is really a plot to find the king and exterminate Him. Herod is known in history to kill anyone who attempts to usurp His throne. [2]

The Father, who knows all and sees all, knows the plot and therefore sends a messenger to Joseph with a simple message. “Get up! Take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you.” Why go there? “For Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”

After Herod’s death, God sends the family back to Israel. Instead of returning to the region of Judea, God sends the Son to Nazareth in Galilee (2:23). Why there? Because Joseph was afraid of Herod’s son Archelaus — a man also known for his violence. The Father protects His Son.

Walt Kaiser says of the context, “In Matthew’s infancy narrative there is stress on God’s preservation during the child’s early years (1:20; 2:13-18).” [3] Matthew tells us God wants to protect Jesus. He then quotes Hosea 11:1 and says this fulfills what has been spoken by the Lord.

Before evaluating the quote, what is the context of Hosea 11:1? What does this passage mean in it’s original context?

Hosea 10 indicts Israel for her waywardness. Hosea is pleading with Israel to repent. The Exile awaits due to her unfaithfulness — a warning given to her in Deuteronomy 29. Hosea summarizes, “You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, You have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors, Therefore a tumult will arise among your people, And all your fortresses will be destroyed . . . thus it will be done to you at Bethel because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel will be completely cut off” (Hosea 10:13-15).

Israel faces justice for her unfaithfulness. But just as God promised exile in Deuteronomy, He also promised restoration, “The Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you” (Deut. 30:3).

Hosea provides hope regarding God’s faithfulness. He tells Israel, “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son . . . It is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in my arms; But they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, and I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; And I bent down and fed them” (Hosea 11:1-4).

When Israel was a young nation, God the Father nurtured, loved, and protected them. Hosea reminds them of their past and God’s faithful, nurturing hand. “Out of Egypt I called my Son,” reminds the readers of God’s faithful, protective, nurture to His people to remove them from oppression and make them His chosen nation.

Sound familiar? It should. Both Matthew and Hosea are communicating similar messages. Israel was under Egyptian oppression and, at the time Matthew writes, they are oppressed by Roman occupation. God nurtures and protects His child in both cases. He loves them and Him. “Out of Egypt I called My son,” therefore seems to communicate God will watch and protect His child(ren) — it serves as a remind to us of God’s protective care.

Matthew is faithful to the Hosea’s message.

One of the problems with this debate is found in our presuppositions. Many instantly assume Matthew is communicating the completion of a prediction made by Hosea, “to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord.” But the Hosea quote is not a prediction. So how can it be a fulfillment?

The answer: “fulfill” has many meanings. Language is sticky and context determines meaning. Consider the word “run:” I run to the store; I ran down the street to my neighbors; I ran a 5k; she runs her mouth; and the car is running.” All of those have the same word, but communicate a different idea.

Fulfill (πληρόω) has multiple meanings. In Matthew 13:48 it means fill with content. Luke 7:1 it means complete an action, “When Jesus [had completed] saying . . .” Matthew 1:22 fulfill means complete a previous prediction. So what is the idea here in Matthew 2:15? Matthew is referencing Hosea 11:1 to reference God’s protective nurture and apply it to the situation. Matthew does the same thing in Matthew 15:7-10. We could do this too. We could say of an unbeliever, he fulfills the Scripture by ‘suppressing the truth’ in his actions.

Some believe Matthew quotes Hosea to emphasize Jesus exodus from Egypt. But this does not fit the context. It is used to communicate God’s protective care of His children. If he intended to emphasize Jesus exodus from Egypt it would fit better in verse 19 and 20 where Matthew tells us Joseph leaves Egypt. The placement of Hosea 11:1 at the end of 2:13-14 seems to emphasize God’s protection. Just like God protected His chosen son, Israel from Egypt and raised them, God will protect His chosen Son Jesus and protect him from Herod.

Now, is Matthew faithful to the Hosea’s message? I report, you decide.

[1] See Three views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament for a better understanding regarding the multiple views.

[2] Herod killed his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, his wife Mariamne, and his three eldest sons for trying to usurp the throne.

[3] The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, (Wipf and Stock, 2001), 49.