Matthew 2:15 “I called my son out of Egypt” is often read at Christmas time. It is sometimes puzzling because it comes from Hoshea 11:1 where it refers to the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. However, it reflects an important spiritual principle that relates to the coming Passover season.
In the passover Haggadah, there is a section of the four sons and four questions. The wicked son asks, “What is this religious ceremony to you all?” The haggada then explains, “he said, ’to you’, and not ‘to him’, accordingly he has excluded himself from the group and denied a principle of faith. Blunt his teeth and say to him, ‘for this the Lord did this for ME in my going out from Egypt’ (Ex 13:8). The scripture says ‘for me’ and not ‘for him’. If he had been there he would not have been redeemed!”
The passover tradition expects a later generation to vicariously share in redemption through faith. Retelling the story is supposed to be as if the celebrants themselves were included in the original exodus. This same theme is picked up by Paul and applied in the opposite direction in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, “Our fathers all were under the cloud and all went through the sea. They were all baptised in relation to Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” More explicitly vicarious is Galatians 2:19-20, “I was crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who am living, but Christ is living in me. What I now live in the body I live through faith of the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
How can a person living in the 21st century claim to be crucified with Christ 2000 years ago? This is a similar question that the son asks on Passover night. How can the person celebrating Passover claim that God redeemed him from Egypt? And how can Paul claim that the people of Israel were ‘baptized in relation to Moshe’? The answer comes through a linkage of faith. A person puts their faith in the same God who acted mightily in the past or will act mightily again. That action is then considered as if it had been done for both the ancient and the modern person. The person celebrating Passover is joining the people of the ancient Passover redemption through faith.
This idea of vicariously joining a spiritual redemption across generations can help us understand Matthew’s thinking in 2:15. Just as God took Israel out of Egypt, so he takes the Messiah out of Egypt. When the young Jesus came out of Egypt God was spiritually repeating and extending a mighty act from the past, across generations. In this sense Jesus’ trip out of Egypt parallels the scripture Hoshea 11.1 and Matthew brings out this added dimension based on a wordplay of “son” to refer to both the people of Israel and the Messiah. Matthew describes this as a ‘fulfillment’ of the scripture. This is similar to rabbis in midrashic literature who call an interpretation of scripture a ‘fulfillment’.
[מה אני מקיים “ואכלתם בחפזון”? זה חפזון מצרים. “How do I establish/fulfill/interpret the scripture ‘and you shall eat it in haste’? This is the haste (confusion) of the Egyptians.” Mekhilta dePischa 7.9. At Qumran, scriptural applications like Matthew’s were called pesher ‘explanation (prophetic realization)’, which is not Matthew’s more rabbinic term (Matthew wrote: ἵνα πληρωθῇ ‘that it might be fulfilled’), though ‘pesher’ interpretation is very similar to Matthew’s method, to describe a spiritual, prophetic realization based on some aspect of a text.]
The important point for believers is to be able to personally join God’s people through faith across generations. God works across generations. This is the principle of faith that the believer affirms at Passover.