Matthew’s Usage of OT Prophecies
In our lesson from Isaiah we noticed the curious way that Matthew uses Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. In particular we saw that Isaiah is giving a sign to King Ahaz because he will not trust in the Lord to deliver him and his nation. The sign is that a young woman would bear a son and by the time that son knows right from wrong, the two nations (Israel and Syria) who he feared would conquer them would be deserted. But Matthew comes along in Matthew 1:22 and says that this prophecy of the young woman bearing a son is fulfilled in Jesus. How can Matthew say this? In this lesson we are going to examine three of Matthew’s quotations from the prophets and look for the methodology of Matthew’s use of the Old Testament prophecies.
Hosea 11:1 — Matthew 2:15
1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. (Hosea 11:1–3 ESV)
It is obvious by reading Hosea that Hosea is not referring to a coming Messiah at all. Israel is the son. The reference is to when Israel was enslaved in Egypt and God called them out of Egypt to be his son. However, the nation turned away from the Lord to worship idols. So what is Matthew doing by quoting this passage? In particular, notice what Matthew says: “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” But this is not what the Lord was referring to through the prophet!
I want us to clearly see that Matthew cannot mean that the prophecy is directly fulfilled in Jesus when he as a child left Egypt because Herod had died. Hosea is not talking about that at all. Hosea has no concept about Jesus in his prophecy. This has led a number of writers and scholars to be critical of the New Testament authors in how they use the Old Testament. It led scholar David Kupp to say, “Matthew shows little awareness that the prophets might actually have been delivering oracles of crucial relevance to their original audiences” (Matthew’s Emmanuel: Divine Presence and God’s People in the First Gospel, 167). Many have concluded that Matthew’s exegetical methods are illegitimate. As Bultmann charges, “The writers of the New Testament do not gain new knowledge from the Old Testament texts, but read from or into them what they already know” (Prophecy and Fulfillment, 54).
So how is Jesus coming out of Egypt the fulfillment of the Hosea prophecy? Is Matthew using the prophecy from Hosea because he has no better proof-text? Is it because Matthew went concordance surfing and found that Hosea speaks of Egypt and just went with it? Obviously these are not acceptable answers if we hold the Bible to be the very words of God. The answer we must consider is typological fulfillment. First, let’s describe what typological fulfillment is not. Typological fulfillment is not dual fulfillment. Dual fulfillment carries the idea that the prophet spoke not only of his own time but also of a future time. I do not believe we can read Hosea 11:1 and suggest that Hosea is not only referring to his own time but also to the time of Jesus. I believe this answer was created because they are somehow trying to reconcile how Matthew could say that this even fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet. Typological fulfillment sees in biblical narratives a divinely intended pattern of events. It is a view that events of the Old Testament are not merely repeated or continued, but enhanced, intensified, and escalated.
You may have a number of examples immediately jump your mind. Our study of the Gospel of John has been built on this premise. John is teaching us that Jesus is God because he not only repeats events in the history of Israel but escalates them. For example, Israel received bread from heaven. In John 6 Jesus is the bread from heaven but his bread gives true life and those who eat from him will never die. Jesus declares himself to the serpent on the pole in John 3, intensifying the event found when Israel was in the wilderness. Moses expected this kind of typological treatment when he said that a prophet like him would rise up to lead the people. But he was speaking of someone greater than himself, not equal to himself who would lead a greater exodus. John the Baptizer is called the Elijah. Events of the Old Testament are not just repeated but intensified and escalated. Therefore what Matthew is doing is declaring that Jesus is the escalated fulfillment of a pattern, teaching, or event in the Old Testament. We do not have time to show it in this lesson, but consider the typological fulfillment of the first four chapters of Matthew, paralleling the history of Israel from persecution, killing of the baby boys, the flight to Egypt, the deliverance from Egypt, the baptism of Jesus, and the time in the wilderness. Jesus is the intensified fulfillment of Israel’s history. The concept of typological fulfillment helps us understand what Matthew is declaring when he says that these things spoken by the prophet were fulfilled.
Matthew uses Hosea 11:1 because just as Israel, which was called God’s son, was led out of Egypt by pillar of fire and cloud into failure in the wilderness, so Jesus, the true Son of God, was called out of Egypt and led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he succeeds against temptation. The pattern is not merely repeated, otherwise Jesus would have failed in the wilderness like Israel. The typology is enhanced because Jesus succeeds where Israel failed, and thus the prophecy is fulfilled typologically.
Jeremiah 31:15 — Matthew 2:18
Jeremiah 31 is an interesting chapter because it is a strong message of hope. Verse 15 is a note of gloom in a chapter of joy. Jeremiah is prophesying how God will bring his people back from exile. The good news necessarily entails the bad news, which is that an exile is coming. Jeremiah 31 speaks about those who will survive the sword, return to to the land, and rebuild (31:1-6). The God who scattered them will gather them as a shepherd (31:10) and their mourning will turn to songs of joy and comfort (31:13). However, Jeremiah 31:15 reminds them that judgment and destruction are coming. Rachel is pictured as wailing for her offspring because they are going to killed in this coming judgment. The promises of future restoration are also promises of judgment and destruction in the present as Jeremiah prophesies. Though judgment and death, the future is hopeful.
The connection that Matthew is making is not difficult to see with typological fulfillment. The devastation that is brought about by God’s enemies (in the case of Jesus’ day, Herod) is going to be reversed by the coming hope and restoration. Though the wicked king is calling for the murder of the baby boys, hope is proclaimed because the Messiah escapes to Egypt so that salvation can be brought in the future. Despite the tears of the Bethlehem mothers, there is hope because the Messiah has escaped Herod and will ultimately reign.
Isaiah 7:14 — Matthew 1:23
This typological fulfillment is occurring in Matthew 1:23 where Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14. Ahaz did not believe that God would deliver. Therefore a sign was given to Ahaz. A son would be born to a young woman and by the time the son knows right from wrong, the two kings that Ahaz feared would be deserted. This was the sign of Immanuel, that is, God is with us. God is showing the people that God is with them through this sign. This is the proof that God keeps his word and delivers his people.
The coming of Jesus is the perfect typological fulfillment with dramatic escalation. Now it will not be merely a young woman who bears the child, but it will be a virgin. A miraculous birth is going to bring about this great sign. This sign is the proof that God keeps his word and delivers his people. But the escalation is that not only does the sign show that God is with us, but it is God himself that comes in the flesh. God not is with us because he is faithful to his word and loves his people, but it was actually God who dwelled among us. Jesus is the greater Immanuel. Further, the deliverance that this Immanuel brings is not only from worldly powers, but from spiritual powers and forces of darkness. Jesus escalates the image because we are set free from our sins. This fulfillment is reflected in the change that Matthew makes to the prophecy. In Isaiah 7 it is the young woman who will call the son Immanuel. Notice what Matthew says. It is the world that is going to call Jesus “Immanuel.” They will call him “God is with us.” This is what Matthew is driving at. Look at Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a son, and you shall call him name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
I hope that we see that we read about fulfillment of prophecy that there is more than one way for prophecy to be fulfilled. Some prophecies are direct prophecies about Jesus. Micah 5:2 is a direct prophecy concerning the future birth place of the ruler over Israel. But there are other prophecies where the prophet was speaking only about his day and time. However, in the divine foreknowledge of God, this pattern and event would be repeated and enhanced by the coming of the Christ. The New Testament authors see this enhanced pattern being culminated in the life of Jesus.