Matthew recounts that an angel of God warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and go to Egypt to escape King Herod, who would seek out Jesus to murder Him (Matthew 2:13–15). Joseph, Mary, and Jesus left immediately (Matthew 2:14) and remained in Egypt until Herod died, after which time they returned to Israel. Matthew completes this narrative by informing the reader that this fulfilled the statement “out of Egypt I called My son” (Matthew 2:15).
The statement first appeared in Hosea 11:1, where Hosea records these words of God: “When Israel was a youth I loved Him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (NASB). It is clear in Hosea’s context that God is talking about the people of Israel. The illustrative status of Israel as God’s son is first affirmed when God called Moses and prepared him to lead Israel out of Egypt. God explained to Moses that “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). Because of the unique relationship that God had with Israel, the people would recognize that God was their Father, even generations beyond Abraham and Jacob (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8). God affirms the relationship long past the time of the patriarchs (Jeremiah 31:9). God had a covenant relationship with the people of Israel that started with the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15—17) and would extend into eternity. When Israel was in captivity and bondage in Egypt, God would call His son—the nation of Israel—out of Egypt. Hosea 11:1 accurately sums it up, then, with “out of Egypt I called My son.”
There is an important nuance of biblical prophecy that helps us understand how a historical happening with Israel (“out of Egypt I called My son”) can be fulfilled with Jesus. Often, we think of Bible prophecy as the prediction of an event and then that event taking place—and that certainly is the case in many instances of Bible prophecy. But there is another aspect of prophecy. New Testament writers (like Matthew and John, for example) show that an Old Testament prophecy can sometimes simply be an event that prefigures something similar and more significant that would happen in the future. Rather than simply make a prediction about a future event, sometimes Bible prophecy records an event that points to a similar but much later event.
In this case, when Matthew quotes “out of Egypt I called My son” (Matthew 2:15), he is suggesting that the exodus of Israel is the earlier event that prefigured or pointed to a later event that would be even more significant: the “exodus” of Jesus from Egypt. As Jesus was God’s only begotten (or uniquely begotten) son (John 3:16), it was again true that “out of Egypt I called My son.” But this time, the calling out of Egypt was the completion or the filling up of the previous event—a purpose of the earlier event was to illustrate something important in the future, and that later event of importance had now taken place with Jesus. If historical events were shaped to point forward to Jesus, it is evident that this Jesus is the central figure in biblical history.
There is another important aspect of this prophecy that should be encouraging to us. Just as Israel has a unique relationship with God as their Father, so we also can call Him “Abba, Father” (abba is a Hebrew word for “father”), as Paul explains in Romans 8:15. When we believe in Jesus, we are adopted as children, and we also have an intimate relationship with God. The Creator of the universe has ordered history in such a way as to make it evident that He desires a relationship with the people He created—loving and caring for us enough to overcome our frailty and failure. “Out of Egypt I called My son” is not an irrelevant historical happening. It is a key historical sign (Israel out of Egypt) pointing to the arrival of the Messiah who would deliver people from sin.