Herod’s hatred proved devastating. In a fierce rage, having been tricked by the Wise Men, he ordered the slaughter of all the males under two around Bethlehem, presumably in an attempt to wipe out his perceived rival. Some scholars reckon that there may have been up to 30 children involved. Just as at the time of Exodus, a powerful leader wreaks havoc in Jewish families.
Matthew, however, connects the tragic events in Bethlehem to another part of the Old Testament, citing Jeremiah 31 and the grief expressed at the exile.
But allusions to Exodus and the escape from Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, are also included in the story, with the quotation from Hosea 11: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ It was Egypt that would provide shelter for Joseph, Mary and Jesus, while the murderous hatred of Herod raged. Once the storm had passed, the family would leave Egypt for Israel, eventually settling in Galilee and the town of Nazareth.
The description of this turn of events as a ‘fulfilment’ of Hosea’s prophecy is fascinating. To all intents and purposes a reader of Hosea 11:1 is likely to see only a reference to the past. Hosea is talking about the rebellion of the ‘son’ that God had called, specifically Israel. The more God loved them, the more rebellious that ‘son’ became.
But Matthew sees another dimension to Hosea’s words. While Israel had failed to be a loving and dutiful son, despite their experience of redemption and the kindness of God, God’s true Son had been born.
Like Israel. this Son was called out of Egypt. Unlike Israel, this Son would lovingly obey his Father. All that Israel failed to be – son, vine, servant – Jesus fulfilled to perfection.
Less theologically, and more practically, how pertinent to note – at a time when there are some 15 million refugees – that the King of Kings and his family were numbered among the refugees of their day.