‘Out of Egypt I have called my Son’
Reflections on the Nativity Gospels (8)
The infant Jesus faced a devious and savage enemy in King Herod of Judea, who plotted to slay the child as a perceived rival. This vicious tyrant thus brought about the massacre of all the male children in Bethlehem two years or younger, hoping to end the threat (Matt. 2:16).
A disturbing horror. And a direct parallel with the events in the life of Israel’s greatest leader, Moses the law-giver. While the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh saw them as a threat and issued a murderous decree to kill all new born males (Ex. 2:15-16).
The infant Moses was only saved from Pharaoh’s decree by being hidden in a basket. The baby Jesus was delivered from Herod when Joseph, prompted by dream, carried him and his mother from Bethlehem. For Matthew, this is no mere coincidence, but one of many instances in his Gospel where Moses is shown as a prefigurement of Christ.
Seeing Jesus as the new Moses also helps to understand why Matthew places such an emphasis on Egypt in his nativity story. Egypt long held a prominent place in the fate of Israel. The patriarch Joseph rescued his father Jacob and his brothers from famine by bringing them to Egypt. Similarly, the patriarch’s namesake, Joseph, Mary’s husband, brought his family to Egypt.
Some four hundred years the death of the patriarch Joseph, Moses in turn rescued the Hebrew slaves by bringing them out of Egypt. And Joseph likewise brought the infant Jesus to Galilee.
Jesus, therefore, is not only God incarnate, but Israel incarnate. Matthew tells us so much when he explains that a prophecy by Hosea in the eighth century B.C.E. was actually about Christ:
…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’ (Matt. 2:15).
Matthew also reminds us that mourning of exile is a recurrent theme in the history of Israel. In the wake of the Massacre of the Innocents, Matthew recites the words of the prophet Jeremiah depicts Rachel, one of the matriarchs of Israel, figuratively weeping because so many were taken in captivity to Babylon.
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children (Matt. 2:18)
Yet Matthew’s nativity story does not end here. God is in control, working through Joseph. Again guided by dreams, Joseph avoids the pitfalls a return to Judea, moving into the Nazareth in the northern province of Galilee.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah and Son of David, and Emmanuel, the Son of God, is now poised to fulfill his mission. We too may often feel we are in exile in a troubled and sinful world, but in the end, God through His providence rules.