Didn’t Matthew Get It Wrong?
In the first century the rabbinically trained Paul claimed that the Jewish Scriptures pointed forward to Jesus as the Messiah. The High Priest Caiaphas categorically denied this and claimed that Jesus was a blasphemer and a rebel against the Romans claiming to be the King of the Jews. Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, argued for a mediating position. He said, “Wait and see! If it’s not of God, it will fail as other false messianic movements. If it’s of God, then we can’t fight it.”
Two thousand years later Christians and Jews still debate over the identity of Jesus with the majority of Jews not quite ready to side with Caiaphas. Many see Jesus as a first century rabbi teaching us to love God and our neighbor.
If ever our individual points of view dominate our decisions, it’s in this debate. And the use of Hosea 11 in the Jewish Scriptures and Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 in the New Testament highlights the radical differences between Jews and Christians.
Hosea's Prodigal Son Story closes his fourth judgment-salvation cycle (Hosea 4:1-11:11). In this account the God of Mt. Sinai is clearly the father. He’s pictured as tenderly raising and healing Ephraim, his young son. For Hosea, Ephraim represents the idolatrous, immoral core group he is trying to reach. As God's lawyer, he traces their refusal to obey back to the beginning and concludes that Israel now faces the death penalty, just like a rebellious son who won’t obey their parents (cf. Deut. 20:18-21). In 727 BC the armies of Shalmaneser V did besiege Samaria and the sword of the Assyrian armies danced in their streets.
In Matthew 2 Joseph takes Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod the Great and then returns. To conclude this episode Matthew suddenly cites Hosea 11:1 and proclaims that this passage is fulfilled in Jesus' return from Egypt (Mathew 2:15). In Hosea the son represents the incessant rebellious Israel. In Matthew's account Jesus is the obedient faithful son. The stories are completely different so isn’t Matthew blatantly misusing his Jewish Scriptures?
To work to solve this conundrum we need to enter into the tension in the heart of God as Israel’s father that Hosea presents as he closes this episode about prodigal Israel.
"How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I give you over to destruction like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is turned upside down within me. All my comfort is kindled together. I will not carry out my burning anger. I will not return to destroy, Ephraim.
Indeed, I am God, not a man, the Holy One in your midst. I will not come in shock and awe.
They will follow after the LORD. He will roar like a lion. When he roars his children will come trembling from
the west. They will come trembling as birds from Egypt, as doves from the land of Assyria, and I will settle them in their homes, says the LORD." Hosea 11:8-11
Hosea never solves the tension between God’s justice that demands for him to carry out the death sentence required by his own Law and his father’s heart that cries out that he cannot destroy his own son. It is this tension that leads us forward in God’s redemptive story to Matthew. He introduces Jesus as the new Israel, the new divine son, and this son won’t be rebellious like Ephraim. Matthew will climax this Son’s story with his death on the cross.
Why? Because on that cross this perfect Son took Ephraim’s stubborn rebellion and treason against God and paid the penalty this sin deserved. But the story didn’t end with this death. On Easter morning this New Covenant Son rose from the dead and he now invites not just Jews but all of us to become his sons and daughters. We just have to hear the roar of the Lion of Judah, come to him, and rest in our divine Father’s forgiveness and love.
LORD, thank you that Hosea’s unresolved story leads us forward to Jesus if, like the Jew Matthew, we will only admit that we’re a “tax collector” who needs to follow Jesus.
For more from Dave Wyrtzen please visit TruthEncounter.com!