A New Moses for a New Exodus

Themes of Israel’s redemption permeate the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 2:13-15, the gospel writer presents Yeshua as a new Moses who leads the nation in a new exodus from Egypt.

After the Magi have departed, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream for a second time. He commands Joseph to take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. He then instructs Joseph to remain there until he tells him otherwise, “for Herod is about to seek the child to destroy him” (v. 13). Joseph complies immediately with the angel’s instructions. He takes the child and his mother during the night and flees to Egypt (v. 14). Matthew reports that Joseph and his family remained in Egypt until the death of Herod (v. 15a)

Matthew then attaches to the narrative what scholars refer to as a “fulfillment citation,” consisting of a formulaic statement (“In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled”) and a quotation drawn from Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (v.15b). Matthew’s application of this text to the life of Yeshua has generated enormous controversy, to put it mildly.

In its original context, Hosea 11:1 clearly alludes to the nation of Israel and its exodus from Egypt. The verse is not a messianic prophecy but a statement about God’s “son” whom he delivered from slavery and bondage in Egypt. The verse begins with the words, “When Israel was a youth, I loved him.” How then should we interpret Matthew’s statement that Yeshua’s return from Egypt has “fulfilled” what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet? Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is an example of typological or analogical correspondence. Matthew recognized a correspondence between events in the history of Israel and the life of Yeshua. Yeshua “fulfills” Hosea 11:1 in that events in the life of Yeshua recapitulate the Exodus event.

On a narrative level, Matthew finds a geographical connection between Israel and Yeshua. In the Exodus account, God protects Israel by sending the nation to Egypt and then bringing it out again. Similarly, in the gospel account, the LORD protects Yeshua by sending him to Egypt and bringing him out again.

On a theological level, the connection goes even deeper. Hosea 11:1 evokes the fulfillment citation’s larger context of exile and restoration. Hosea 11:10-11 describes an eschatological “exodus” in which the LORD will roar like a lion and the Jewish people will come from east and west back to the land of Israel.

Many scholars conclude that the identification of Yeshua with Israel’s history and mission means that Yeshua is a “new” Israel who replaces “old” Israel. This interpretation of the evidence, however, is incorrect. From Matthew’s perspective, Yeshua does not replace Israel but rather becomes the embodiment of Israel. Matthew, like the Qumran community, believed that Messiah would rescue the faithful remnant from judgment and bring about the nation’s eschatological restoration. It is in this sense that Yeshua is a new Moses who has come to lead the nation in a new exodus.

But there is a problem: It seems that Matthew 2:15 equates Yeshua with Israel and not Moses. How then can we argue that Matthew presents Yeshua as a new Moses based upon this text? First, as we have already suggested, Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 evokes the citation’s larger context, which is based upon the exodus from Egypt. As Dale Allison observes, Moses is the hero of that story and it is inevitable that Matthew’s reader would have recognized parallels between the life of Moses and the life of Yeshua. [1]

A second observation confirms (as scholars like Donald Hagner and Craig Keener point out) that Matthew implies a parallel between Moses and Yeshua. God appeared to Amram (the father of Moses) in a dream and encouraged him not to despair. A careful examination of the Greek text of Matthew 2 reveals that it shares a number of clear verbal parallels with the story of Moses in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. First, the language of Matthew 2:13 (“to seek to kill the child”) resembles the language of Exodus 2:15 (“he was seeking to kill Moses”). Second, the verb translated as “he fled” in Matthew 2:14 is identical to the verb used in Exodus 2:15 to describe Moses’ escape from Pharaoh. [2]

Matthew’s narrative also contains similarities with extra-biblical traditions about the story of Moses. The Jewish historian Josephus informs us that a “scribe” predicted the birth of a child who would deliver Israel from Egypt in the future. As a result, Pharaoh ordered the death of all Hebrew male infants. Amram was afraid because his wife was pregnant and he did not know what to do about the situation. God appeared to Amram in a dream and encouraged him not to despair. God would protect his family from the Egyptians. His son would grow up and deliver the Hebrew nation from the slavery of Egypt. His memory would be famous among Hebrews as well as among foreigners.[3] Because of what God had revealed to him about his son’s future greatness, Amram and his wife therefore took action to preserve the life of the child. [4]

On the narrative level, these features (the verbal similarities between Matthew 2:14-15 and Exodus 2:14 and the extra-biblical traditions about Moses) create a subtle but clear parallel between the life of Moses and the life of Yeshua. Just as Moses escaped persecution from Pharaoh, so Yeshua escaped persecution from Herod. On the theological level, this parallel implies Yeshua to be a new Moses who leads Israel in a new exodus.

By evoking the larger context of Hosea 11:1 and by creating parallels between the life of Yeshua and story of Moses, Matthew presents Yeshua as a new Moses who leads the nation in a new exodus from Egypt. The exodus event became a paradigm by which the prophets of Israel described Israel’s eschatological restoration. In the first exodus, God delivered Israel from the slavery and bondage of Egypt. In the second exodus, God will gather his people from among the nations and bring them back to the land of covenant promise (Isaiah 35, 40:1-5, 49:5).

  1. Dale C. Allison, Jr., The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 141.
  2. See Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, WBC, vol. 33a (Dallas, TX: Word, 1993), 34; see also Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999). 107-08.
  3. Josephus, Antiquities, 2.205-16.
  4. Josephus, Antiquities, 2.217-221.

Source: First Fruits of Zion