Christmas Geography

Have you ever considered how significant geography was in the identification of Jesus as the true Messiah? Matthew 2 describes the incredible circumstances around the birth of Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy, and all three prophecies he points to are geographic—Jesus is the Messiah because he was driven to Egypt, his exile caused weeping in Ramah, and he returned to Nazareth (Matthew 2:15, 17, 23).

All three of these prophesied locations demonstrate elements of typology—by typology I mean that there are a series of events in the Old Testament that give a rough description of what the Savior will look like, and then that description is filled in by Jesus. In fact, the world Matthew uses for “fulfilled” (Matthew 2:15, 17, 23) can even be understood to mean “fill up.” Consider the Old Testament a connect-the-dot drawing, the New Testament is the coloring book, and then Jesus fills in the image.

All three of these geographic prophecies follow the same pattern. There is an initial shape laid out in the Torah, then later on in Israel’s life there is more detail added, and then the New Testament comes along and describes Jesus as filling in that pattern.

Today I want to consider how his flight to Egypt proved that he was the Messiah.

You are likely familiar with this story from the perspective of the New Testament. After his birth, Herod sent men to murder Jesus. His father, Joseph, was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt for safety. After as many as a few years, or as little as a few months, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to return to Israel.

Matthew 2:15 says that this series of events happened in order to fulfil the prophecy found in Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” The context of Hosea 11 is that of the original exile, so Jesus’ flight to Egypt is pointed to by the original flight to Egypt, one that took place back in the book of Genesis.

The Shape of the Story from the Torah

In Genesis 27, Moses explains how the promise for the coming savior is handed to Jacob (as opposed to Esau). The narrative of Genesis then follows Jacob has he marries his two wives and fathers 13 children through four different women. Then, in Genesis 32, Jacob is renamed Israel, and we are told this is because all of the nation Israel will come from him and his 12 sons.

His favorite son, however, is Joseph, and Joseph finds himself in mortal danger. Because his brothers resent him, they conspire to murder him, and lay a trap to end his life. However, God intervenes, and instead Joseph is sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. The rest of Genesis describes how Joseph’s transfer to Egypt ends up as the catalyst to draw all of his brothers to Egypt as well. One detail of that story is pertinent here—God used dreams to lead Joseph to safety in Egypt (Genesis 37:5, 9, 40:5-16, 41:1-32, 42:9).

These dreams not only kept Joseph safe, but by keeping Joseph safe they saved all of Israel by drawing them to Egypt. Eventually, 400 years later, God called Israel out of Egypt, through the water, through the testing in the wilderness, and finally led her back into the Israel the land.

The Shape of the story from the prophets

Centuries later, Israel was in trouble from the Babylonians, and many Israelites saw Egypt as their savior. God mocked this desire to trust Egypt—and mocked is not too strong of a word; consider: “A beautiful heifer is Egypt, but a biting horsefly from the north is about to come upon her” (Jeremiah 46:20).

Israel eventually was taken into Babylonian exile, and the last Jews to flee of course fled to Egypt (Jeremiah 41:17). The place that God designed as a refuge for Israel in Genesis had become a place of avoidance, and ultimately a place of captivity.

Nevertheless, God set his love on Israel and called them back from exile, and caused them to return to the land again (Jeremiah 30:1-4). He did this because he loved them, and not because of their repentance or faith. This is the story so powerfully illustrated by Hosea, who (like God) took an adulterous wife, lost her to captivity, and then brought her back.

The exact prophecy: Hosea 11:1

Hosea 9-10 picks up the story of Israel’s captivity. Because of her sin, they were now surrounded by their enemies. They needed refuge, and found it in Egypt (Hosea 9:3, 9:6). Meanwhile, they had rejected their true King, Yahweh (Hosea 10:3). God responded to their rejection of his kingship by afflicting their so-called Kings, and brining their reigns to a crashing halt (10:7, 14-15).

When those false kings are finally cut off (Hosea 10:15), then God will call his true Son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). This is the verse that Matthew sees as fulfilled in the advent of Jesus Christ and his flight to Egypt.

Jesus colors in the image

Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is more than a superficial connection to an Old Testament prophecy. Instead, Jesus’ flight to Egypt identifies him as the true son of Yahweh. Consider the OT outline:

Genesis, Jeremiah and Hosea show that Egypt is where God’s son goes when he needs to flee Israel.
These OT exiles in Egypt are both preceded by murderous intent.
God leads Joseph to Israel through dreams
Joseph is the one who draws Israel into Egypt (in Hosea, it is Ephraim—Joseph’s son)
Egypt is given by God as a place of freedom, but it becomes a place of bondage.
And the exile ends when God calls his Son back to Israel.
Do you see how this outline is laid out in Genesis, repeated in Jeremiah and Hosea, and culminates in the true son of God—Jesus—coloring in the image?

This is an incredibly persuasive argument that he is the Savior. These prophecies are detailed, specific, and the type is fulfilled by Christ when he was only a little child.

It’s not possible that he arranged for himself to be taken to Egypt, nor would it have been possible for him to be the true Israel without it. Matthew uses these three geographic prophecies to show us that even as a child, Jesus was the true Israel, the only-begotten son of God, and the obvious fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Jesse Johnson

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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