Did Matthew mishandle Hosea 11:1?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Some have greatly criticized the book of Matthew because it uses Hosea 11:1 to apply to Jesus Christ. Originally, Hosea was talking about God calling Israel out of Egypt. Yet, Matthew adapted Hosea’s statement to say God called Jesus out of Egypt. Was Matthew wrong for doing this? To the Scriptures!

King Herod was willing to do anything and everything he could to prevent a young king (Jesus) from taking his throne. So, as many know, he purposed to kill Jesus (who was as much as two years old at the time). Many Jewish babies and young children were slaughtered in the process. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream in Matthew 2:13. God, having complete knowledge of the situation, instructed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. Now, we read Matthew 2:15: “And [young Jesus] was there [in Egypt] until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Matthew was obviously citing Hosea 11:1, which reads: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” A difficulty has now arisen in the minds of some. How could this verse about the nation Israel also pertain to Jesus Christ as Matthew suggests? If we are skilled in the Scriptures, there is no “difficulty” here. In fact, that “strange” application of Hosea 11:1 enables us to see parallels between Israel and Christ both past and future. Rather than being ungrateful and lazy complainers, we can be studious Bible readers and actually learn something from God’s marvelous Book!

Read what Moses was instructed to tell Pharaoh, just before Israel’s deliverance from Egypt: “And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). Who is the nation Israel? Is not Israel God’s “son?” According to the Bible, yes. Now, see what God says of Jesus: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Is not Jesus God’s “Son?” Again, according to the Bible, yes. Even if we knew nothing else, even if we stopped right here, we can see the close affinity between Israel and Jesus Christ. But, let us take it a step further. More clarity could be—and will be—provided. Exactly what can we learn from all of this?

To begin, we ask a basic question. What is a “son” in Scripture? We find the Biblical definition of sonship in Galatians chapter 4: “[1] Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; [2] But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. [3] Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: [4] But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, [5] To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. [6] And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. [7] Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Please understand that adoption in God’s Word is not used in the sense as we use it. It is not taking a child out of his or her biological family and placing him or her into a foreign family. In the Bible, the adopted son stays within his biological family: he receives a prominent position in his family. The father has ensured that son has been trained since he was a child. After that period of instruction, the son can join the father in doing what the father enjoys (like running a family business). In the Bible, an adopted son is someone whom the father declares to be an adult. That is, the adopted son is a mature individual capable of making wise decisions about matters related to the father’s interests. If the father is unavailable, he can trust his son to act sensibly in his stead.

By the way, we as members of the Church the Body of Christ, we are not “servants,” doing the Father’s will because we are obligated to do it. No, Galatians says we are “sons,” doing the Father’s will because we have freely decided to do it. Father God has not forced us to do it. Out of gratitude for what He has done for us at Calvary, we simply delight in doing what He wants accomplished. His word effectually works in us who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13). It is really His power that drives our Christian life. We will talk more about this later in reference to Jesus Christ.

Okay, back to the nation Israel. As per the Abrahamic Covenant, God wanted Israel to be His channel of salvation and blessing to the Gentiles (see Genesis 12:1-3). As with the case of sonship, Israel should have learned to trust God’s Word and depend on God’s works. Yet, once God delivered them from Egypt, they fumbled (see Hosea 11:1-4). They failed to learn the instruction that God had given them; consequently, they never did function as God’s “adopted-son” nation. So wrapped up in their own religious “goodness,” they never saw the goodness of His grace (what He wanted to do for them and with them). They had no idea what God was doing in the Earth, so they had no capability of working alongside God.

Exodus chapter 15, the Song of Moses, highlights what God had just done for Israel in destroying Pharaoh and his armies in the Red Sea: “[16] Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased. [17] Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O LORD, which thy hands have established. [18] The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.”

Look at what God is doing in the passage—“the greatness of thine arm,” “thou hast purchased,” “thou shalt bring them in,” “thou shalt plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance,” “in the place O LORD which thou hast made for thee to dwell in,” “the Sanctuary O LORD which thy hands have established,” “the LORD shall reign for ever and ever.” It is not about what Israel is doing and has done, but what God has done for her and wants to do with her! Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was a precursor to God coming down from heaven and dwelling with the Jews on Earth. They were to be His kingdom of priests, ready to tell the Gentiles all about their wonderful God! Alas, Israel failed. It was such a miserable disaster. They refused His Word and wanted works-religion instead. They wanted their works to be the issue. They could not function as God’s “son,” His co-worker. They had no idea what His Word was. They were in no condition to share it with the world. Israel should have been ready to be God’s people as soon as He delivered them from Egypt. They had been set free from Satanic bondage and had been heading to God’s Promised Land. Now, that had ended. They fell under God’s curse (because of their works), and are still awaiting His blessings (because of His grace).

Fast-forward 1,500 years, to our opening comments. Young Jesus has fled to Egypt, the same land in which Israel was in bondage many centuries earlier (Matthew 2:13-18). However, by the time of Matthew 2:19-23, Herod is dead, and Jesus can safely return to “the land of Israel” (note that expression in verse 21). Once He enters the Promised Land, Jesus is delighted to do the Father’s will. What Israel failed so miserably in doing, Jesus went on to do it. He was so faithful to Father God’s will, and, by doing so, He forced Israel to learn the lesson that God had been trying to teach them for centuries. They could never make themselves His people; He would make them His people. Only He had that power for sonship!

We find the writer of the book of Hebrews quoting Psalm 40:6-8. In fact, it is quoting what the Lord Jesus Christ said to His Heavenly Father at His incarnation in Mary’s womb. Note Hebrews chapter 10: “[5] Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: [6] In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. [7] Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. [8] Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; [9] Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”

Not only did Jesus say that He came to do God’s will. If we look at the original quote, Psalm 40:8, it says, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” Our Lord Jesus took great delight in doing His Father’s will because His Father’s Word had filled His heart (cf. John 2:17)! Earlier, we made the comment that Jesus was not so much a servant, or someone forced to do His master’s will. No, He decided to do His Father’s will because He delighted in doing His Father’s will. Note these few examples from the Scriptures that highlight Christ Jesus’ faithfulness:

  • “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
  • “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17).
  • “Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me” (John 7:16).
  • “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50).
  • “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (John 14:24).
  • “I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father” (John 8:38).
  • “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work(John 4:34).

In short, Jesus Christ showed us (and Israel) what sonship in its fullness is all about. He constantly depended upon His Father’s words to Him. He was not working out of fear or obligation, but out of love and delight. He was not working independently of His Father, doing whatever He wanted. He accomplished His Father’s will with joy unspeakable. He did every miracle He was sent to do. He preached every sermon He was meant to speak. Ultimately, He went to Calvary to die first and foremost for Israel’s sins, and secondarily, for our sins.

Notice the prayer our Lord Jesus spoke to His Heavenly Father just hours before His crucifixion. John 17:3-8: “[3] And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. [4] I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. [5] And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. [6] I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. [7] Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. [8] For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.”

That earthly life was over. Above all, Jesus Christ lived that sinless life in and among the nation Israel for 33 years. They saw just how high the bar of God’s righteousness was. His life was a constant reminder that they could never strive enough in religion and make themselves holy. They could never glorify His Father as He had done for those few short years on Earth. He had shown them that He was the way to the Father. The only way they could ever be God’s people was to trust Him to do the work for them.


With all of that said about Jesus Christ, and how faithful He was as God’s Son, and all of that said about how Israel was so disobedient to God, how will Israel ever function as “God’s son-nation?” Is not Israel a nation of sinners? How will mere mortal humans be able to fulfill God’s will as perfectly as Jesus Christ?

Isaiah chapter 45 predicts Israel’s future restoration to God: “[24] Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. [25] In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” The nation Israel will one day come to understand that their “justification” before God is not dependent upon their works in religion (Law of Moses). Rather, their right standing before God will be dependent on them being “in the LORD.” They must have God’s righteousness, God’s power, applied to them. God Himself will make them His people, imputing His righteousness to them and writing His law in their hearts so they will do His will. This is the purpose of the New Covenant, which will be given to Israel’s believing remnant at Christ’s Second Coming. For sake of brevity, we will cite the references without commenting—Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-28, Acts 3:19-21, Romans 11:25-29, Hebrews 8:8-13, and Hebrews chapter 10 (particularly verses 15-17).

Remember what Father God said at Jesus’ water baptism? This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). God will be pleased with Israel when Israel is in His Son, Jesus Christ (“in the LORD”). Jesus Christ will give them “power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). It will be only be Israel in Christ, that will be able to accomplish God’s will. He will bring them out of all the nations under heaven (pictured by their Egyptian deliverance), and bring them into His land so they can do His will forever in His glorious kingdom (pictured by Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry)!

Enjoy our Bible Q&A articles? You may donate securely to us here: https://www.paypal.me/ShawnBrasseaux.

Also see:
» Are we “doom and gloom” Bible-prophecy believers?
» Why did Jesus select evil Judas Iscariot to be an apostle?
» Who is “the Israel of God” of Galatians 6:16?