As both were available at the time, it is necessary to begin by comparing Matthew to the Hebrew and Greek (LXX) texts of Hosea:
14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called (ἐκάλεσα) my son (υἱός).” (Matthew 2 ESV)
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
For Israel was an infant, and I loved him, and out of Egypt I recalled his children.
Matthew rejected the LXX translation and chose to use the Hebrew. This is significant since the LXX is a snapshot which reflects how Hebrew scholars before the Christian era understood the passage:
Arguably, these are mistranslations. Yet except for a wrong name, they work together to make an accurate statement describing the Exodus from Egypt:
When Israel (should be Jacob
1) was an infant he was loved (cf. Malachi 1:2-3). Israel took his family to Egypt [at the LORD's guidance (cf. Genesis 46:1-4)]. Therefore, it was the LORD who recalled (not called) his children (not son) out of Egypt.
The LXX modifications create a text about the nation's exodus from Egypt. It is fair to say this required misrepresenting the literal original message which spoke of the Northern Kingdom's apostasy (cf. "Israel" in 10:15 and "Ephraim" in 11:3). Nevertheless, the changes produced a statement consistent with the entire nation's history of idolatry and subsequent apostasy.
In the overall context of Hosea, these "mistranslations" transform the apostasy of the Northern Kingdom into a national problem which began in Egypt, continued through the wilderness, and persisted even after Israel was given the inheritance promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since the LXX was produced after the Southern Kingdom returned from exile, it is historically accurate and functions to "level the field" between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms: both were guilty of, and punished for their apostasy.
It should be noted Matthew's treatment follows the Hebrew exactly. It correctly states the son not children was called, not recalled out of Egypt. Thus, while often criticized for his appropriation of the Hebrew Bible, in contrast to those who produced the LXX, Matthew was faithful to the original text. One may object to Matthew applying the text to Jesus, but not his translation into Greek.
Both Matthew's and the LXX's application are in harmony with the original intent of Hosea. Scholars recognize this type of interpretation is implied in the first verse:
The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. (Hosea 1:1)
Ehud Ben Zvi comments on how the temporal "mismatches" within this statement show the original text was never intended to be read from a single point of view:
Although the setting for the book is the Northern Kingdom of Israel, its intended readers are the Judeans who may constructively reflect upon the demise of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. References to the kings of Judah precede, and are more elaborate than, the reference to the Israelite king. Further, since Jeroboam (II) died during the reign of Uzziah (2 Kings 15.8), the temporal references do not match. From the Israelite perspective, the book is anchored in the last period of strength of the Northern Kingdom; from the Judahite perspective it is anchored in a period in which Israel moves from a political position of strength to the beginning of its demise in the days of Hezekiah. This double perspective is no mistake, but a rhetorical clue for the reading of the book.
Modern scholars state the original text was understood as intentionally written to be considered from more than one point of view. This is affirmed by the last verse in the book:
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the LORD are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them. (Hosea 14:10)
In other words, this prophetic word should not merely be heard once, but must be carefully studied...
3This was, and still is, the Jewish tradition (emphasis added):
Prophetic books were written texts meant to be read, or more properly, to be re-read and studied. Texts written to be read many times tend to show more than passing instances of ambiguity or multiple meanings. Such multiple meanings abound in the prophetic books...
Matthew approached Hosea as any Hebrew scholar would study prophetic texts:
From an insider's religious perspective, when the monarchic period came to a close, Jerusalem (= the LORD's city), the Temple (= the LORD's house), and the Davidic dynasty (= the LORD's chosen dynasty) all fell. There is no doubt that the events of 586 represent a watershed in the history of Judah and ancient Israel, and were understood as such by those who lived after these events. Postmonarchic Judahites tried to understand them in terms of divine justice and tried to understand themselves within a world in which their community, from their perspective the LORD's people, was so powerless compared to other nations and compared to the memory of monarchic Judah. These issues loomed large in the postmonarchic communities within which the prophetic books were written or reached their present form, and certainly were of great concern to the people for whom they were written. Reflections on these issues are abundant in many of the prophetic books, often taking one or the other of the two forms: either condemnations of monarchic Judah for sins so great they justified the LORD's destruction of Jerusalem, or messages of hope and restoration that reassured the postmonarchic community that their present situation was not the "end of the road" but only a minor stop in a journey that led to an ideal and glorious future for Israel - and that times, for the nations too.
One may reject Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah prophesized in the Hebrew Bible, but the prophecies still produce an expectation the Messiah will come. As Ehud Ben Zvi says, the prophetic texts give hope of "a journey that led to an ideal and glorious future for Israel - and that times, for the nations too." So those who question Matthew's application of this and other texts to Jesus, have a difficult balancing act when saying Matthew's approach is wrong yet maintaining the Hebrew Bible predicts a Messiah.
An Exodus Leader in Hosea
The LXX points out the difficulty a translator has in rendering the original text as a statement about the exodus. If Israel is both the loved child and the called son, both must refer to the nation as a whole. However, Israel the man (singular), not Israel the nation went to Egypt. In fact the purpose of going to Egypt was to make Israel a great nation in Egypt. YHVH says Israel is "my firstborn son" (Exodus 4:22), but that was when they were in Egypt. Moreover, they became YHVH's people after He brought them out of Egypt. As the LXX shows, in order to present the passage as a description of the past exodus, the original text must be changed to make it fit what had happened.
On the other hand, if Hosea is understood as foretelling a future event, no changes are necessary, as Matthew's treatment shows. When the text is seen as prophetic, all that is needed is to identify the singular person it predicts: just as Matthew did. Hosea was a prophecy about a new leader, as Moses had also said:
15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, 16 according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ 17 “And the LORD said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. 18 I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18)
Obviously, Jesus did not lead the people out of Egypt so in that sense there was no second Exodus. But as Moses said, the LORD would raise up a prophet like himself and in order to fulfill that Jesus would have to leave Egypt to prepare for His assignment, just as Moses had to leave Egypt to prepare for his assignment (cf. Exodus 2:11-15). So Matthew's application is in the context of Moses' replacement: both Moses and Jesus were first called out of Egypt before they could begin their assignment. For Moses that would require going back to Egypt in order to bring the nation out; for Jesus that would require going back to the wilderness (cf. Matthew 3:13-4:1) to "pick up" from where Moses had stopped (cf. Deuteronomy 34)
1. Jacob was given the name Israel as an adult (cf. Genesis 32:28).
2. Ehud Ben Zvi, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1144
3. Ibid., p. 1164
4. Ibid., p. 1140
5. Ibid., p. 1139-40
6. For example, there are references in the rabbinic literature in which some equated the son of Exodus 4:22 with the Messiah himself (cf. Midrash on Psalm 2:7) [Rabbi Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah, Lederer Books, 2011, p. 23. This would also result in understanding Hosea as Matthew did.