‘Out of Egypt I called my son’
We look at one verse, Matthew 2:15, in three tenses. ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’. With due deference to Mr Charles Dickens, and especial apologies to Mr Ebenezer Scrooge, we will vary a certain well-known Christmas story by entitling our three points ‘The Quote of Scripture Past’, ‘The Quote of Scripture Present’, and ‘The Quote of Scripture Future’.
But let me emphasise at the beginning that what we are looking at today is not a nightmare, nor a dream, nor indeed a work of fiction. What we have here is the tender love of God, seen in this verse and demonstrated in Three Acts which took place on the world stage.
1. The Quote of Scripture Past
It says in Hosea 11:1: ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.’ What is all this about? Here we are going back to about 1400 years before Jesus was born, and the ‘son’ is the young, growing nation of Israel in the land of Egypt. This verse is a clear reference to Exodus 4:22-23, where Moses is told, ‘Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’”’ Israel endured over four hundred years of slavery and bitterness in Egypt, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob remembered his covenant with his people and brought them out in a mighty demonstration of glory and salvation. The great miracle of Israel’s deliverance, and the signs and wonders which God did through Moses became the most formative part of their whole history.
But we should especially notice the tender note of care that the Lord had for Israel, and the great faithfulness he showed them. In Deuteronomy 32:9-11 it says ‘For the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.’ No less poignant are the words of Ezekiel 16:8: ‘I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.’
But Israel turned away from God. They broke the covenant. This is the burden of Hosea 11:1 which we have read, ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.’ Then the text continues: ‘But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.’ And in all this the tender and compassionate love of God never failed or waned. So the text goes on, ‘It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.’
Yet we know the unfolding history of the Old Testament. The kingdom of David and Solomon quickly split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. About two hundred years later the northern kingdom of Israel was swallowed up by mighty Assyria. A little over a hundred years later the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled to Babylon. Why had all this happened? Because the people of God had become covenant-breakers, so that all the curses for disobedience came upon them, ultimately banishment from the Promised Land. The Old Testament ends with the word ‘curse’. Is that the final word? Is there no happy ending, no continuation? Does the story of God’s people end with a Prodigal Son who never came home but stayed wallowing with the pigs in their muck and slime?
2. The Quote of Scripture Present
Matthew 2:13-15 reads: ‘When they [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ Now we are in the present as far as this text is concerned, and the ‘son’ is Jesus himself, the infant son of Mary, and also the only-begotten Son of God. The statement that Jesus is the Son of God is true in its absolute, Trinitarian sense. He is the One who was with the Father from the beginning, the Word of the Father, begotten not created, to be worshipped and adored with the Father and the Spirit for ever, world without end, Amen.
However we should say something more specific. Matthew’s Gospel is written especially for Israelites who know and love the Scriptures and are looking for the Promised Messiah. That is why he quotes so much from the Old Testament, especially in the early chapters. He is determined to show that Jesus is indeed Israel’s Messiah. But not only is Jesus Israel’s Messiah, he himself is the new Israel, the embodiment of Israel. That is surely the conclusion that this verse must lead us to. Any Jew reading this text would say ‘I recognise that verse; it’s from Hosea and it’s talking about Israel as God’s son. Now why is that verse being quoted here about Jesus?’ This is the whole point: Jesus is himself the new and the true Israel. Israel is fulfilled and represented in Jesus.
It is not enough to say that Israel is just a picture, a symbol or a type of Jesus. In the most physical, flesh-and-blood sense, Jesus has sprung from the very bowels of Israel. He is the Israelite child of an Israelite mother, conceived in an Israelite womb, nursed on Israelite milk. His human nature is Israelite to the very marrow. His genealogy, given in Chapter 1 by Matthew, is a roll-call of Israelite names, famous and infamous. When Paul writes about the people of Israel in Romans 9:4-5 you can sense his Israelite emotion welling up in him. ‘Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs’ – and then he comes to the glorious climax – ‘and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.’ When you see United Nations conventions and other meetings, the name of the country is placed on a card in front of the delegate who is seated around the table. Our Foreign Secretary has a card in front of him which says ‘United Kingdom’. So much more should Jesus have a banner over his head which says ‘Israel’. Pilate was right – this is the King of the Jews! This is Israel!
Now what we must see in this passage is nothing other than the history of the infant Israel being re-enacted in the history of the infant Jesus. Like Israel – perhaps we should say as Israel – Jesus goes to stay in Egypt for a time in his infancy, to escape danger of death. Israel of old went down into safety in Egypt because of the actions of a man called Joseph, a dreamer of God-given dreams. History repeated itself in the life of the child Jesus. Like Israel Jesus is at the mercy of a cruel and powerful king: Pharaoh sought to destroy all the newborn boys of Israel, and centuries later Herod sought to destroy all the newborn boys of Bethlehem. Are these things just happy coincidences? Of course they are not. We are meant to see them. Seeing all this enriches our understanding and enjoyment of the Bible and of God himself. The child Moses, whose mother saw that he was a fine child, beautiful in God’s sight, was saved from the murderous designs of the king of Egypt. Jesus did not return from Egypt until Herod had died, and afterwards he was brought back to safety in Nazareth, where he remained. ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’. Jesus was spared death. Now the great question is why – what does all this mean?
3. The Quote of Scripture Future
I am taking a big, fat liberty here. What do I mean by ‘the Quote of Scripture Future’? This text is not quoted again in the New Testament. Do I have any right to apply it to the future? I am convinced that we can apply it to ourselves, today, right here and now. Remember how we left things at the end of the first point, ‘the Quote of Scripture Past’? Israel is a nation still hanging under the threat of a curse. Is that it? Thank God it isn’t – and all because of what Jesus has done! ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’.
Now what exactly do we mean by Egypt? ‘Egypt’ might mean different things to different people at different times. ‘Egypt’ is (1) a modern Arab state in north-east Africa, beset by political, economic and constitutional difficulties, not to say the threat of widespread and even state-sanctioned persecution against Christians. ‘Egypt’ is (2) the land dominated by the River Nile, the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. ‘Egypt’ is (3) the tourist destination where you might go to visit the Great Pyramids and the other ancient monuments built during the long centuries when the Pharaohs ruled. Or it is seaside resorts like Sharm-el-Sheikh!
But in the Bible ‘Egypt’ has a further meaning and significance. The LORD delivered his people ‘out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’. Egypt represents the slavery of sin. In Revelation 11:8 we read about John’s vision of the two faithful witnesses who were persecuted and killed. We read that ‘their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.’ Now what happened when the Lord Jesus was crucified? The answer is that he delivered himself and his people from that slavery of sin. ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’. Who is this son? This Son is Jesus Christ himself. But what more can we say? This son, this Israel, is all the people for whom Jesus Christ died, the people to whom he is bound by the everlasting covenant of grace. Jesus says that he is the vine, and we are the branches. The branches are part of the vine, are they not? Whoever puts his trust in Jesus Christ is one with Jesus Christ. He is in union with him. The whole ransomed Church of God is the Israel of God, with Jesus Christ as its Head. Because he lives, we all live.
‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.’ Today the Lord calls you to leave Egypt, to leave behind sin and unbelief. How does this happen? It happens when we hear that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, souls that are conceived and born in sin, without a hope of ever redeeming themselves, and we entrust ourselves to God through Jesus, turning away from our sin. Here is deliverance from sin, regeneration to a new life, justification so that our sins can never be counted against us. Here is ongoing sanctification, ending in glorification and the likeness to Christ himself. The Lord will finish the good work that he has begun in us.
But perhaps above all, here is adoption as sons of the living God. No privilege can be greater than to be called the son of God. ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God; and that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1) Remember the word of the risen Jesus in John 20:17: ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.’ Have you heard his call today? Believe in Jesus Christ, turn back to him again!
Paul Yeulett is Pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.
Living in the World 6 November 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]
When coming to consider plagues throughout history and some Christian responses, it is appropriate to begin with this extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: O Almighty God, who in thy wrath did send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in […]