Matthew 2, Israel, Jesus, and the new Israel

Matthew 2:13-15

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

While Herod thought he controlled the situation by separating the priests and scribes from the magi, in fact, God himself was orchestrating all of these for his perfect plan. Just as the magi had been warned about Herod’s plan, so now Joseph in a dream hears the angel of the Lord speak about the danger and the need to flee for refuge. As in chapter 1, Joseph immediately does what the angel had commanded. Notice the phrase, “Take the child and his mother”—another example of God (through Matthew) clarifying exactly what is going on and the relationship between Joseph and this child. This also points to Joseph’s continuing vocation as husband (to Mary, the child’s mother) and (step)father to (God’s) child.

Matthew notes that this fulfills what God had spoken through Hosea 11:1. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” In the context of Hosea this statement is looking back to what God had done Hosea used that as the basis for calling the people, Israel, back to God. Matthew extends that by applying the backward look of Hosea 11 to a forward look to the true Israel, or Israel-reduced-to-one, Jesus.

Reference to Hosea 11:1 in the class presented us with the opportunity to review what is “Israel” and what is the referent when the term is used. In the Old Testament “Israel” has different referents depending on the era and context. In Genesis, “Israel” is first applied to a person, Jacob; “Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed’” (Gen. 32:28). After his death and his descendants are in Egypt, the term “Israel” now shifts slightly to refer to these descendants: “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly” (Exodus 1:7).

Centuries later when Solomon was king, because of his disobedience to the Lord, his kingdom would be divided into two parts: 1) Ten northern tribes called “Israel” (or sometimes “Ephraim”) and 2) Two southern tribes [Judah and Benjamin] called “Judah.” This division took place about 930 BC. Even so, at times in the later prophetic writings “Israel” will point to the ten northern tribes, other times to a parallel with Judah and still other times to the combined 12 tribes. Context always dictates the referent for “Israel.”

Jesus comes as the true Israel, fulfilling what the nation of Israel could not and would not do. For instance, Jerusalem was the gathering point in the Old Testament; the nations would come to Jerusalem for salvation. But Israel was not open and became arrogant, demanding rights of God’s people while not living as God’s people, Israel. Note the prophetic direction in Isaiah 59:20 (“And a Redeemer will come to Zion”). However, once the Redeemer comes to Zion and fulfills all things as Israel-reduced-to-one (key theme in Matthew’s Gospel), then the direction changes. No longer do the nations come to Jerusalem/Zion, rather the Good News goes to the nations.The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 shows this reversal of directions (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations“). Paul clearly makes this point in Romans 11:26 (“The Deliverer will come from Zion”).

One further advance is made in regard to “Israel.” Paul writes in Romans 9:6-8

For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

So, the critical factor once Christ comes is that he fulfills all the Old Testament (2 Corinthians 1:20). From the moment of his ascension, all who believe in him are Israel. There is no need to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. In Amos 9:11-12 we read:

“In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the LORD who does this.

Then in Acts 15:12-21 James addresses the issue of the Gentiles coming into the Church, which had been exclusively Jewish in the early years after Pentecost in Acts 2. James quotes this passage from Amos. That is, by the Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus Christ this is the very rebuilding of the fallen tent of David to be restored to that, which God intended in its fullness in His Son. That is accomplished by Jesus Christ and the Good News that is preached to “Jew and Gentile.”

Nor is there a need to reinstitute the sacrifices because to do so is to deny the one complete, sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Hebrew 9:26-28 “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.”

Thus, we now understand Paul’s use of “Israel in Romans 11:26 a: “And in this way all Israel will be saved.” Namely, Israel refers to believers in Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. And we join Paul at the end of Romans 11 in that great hymn of praise (vv. 33-36):

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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