By RANDALL BOOTH
Matthew 2:15, “I called my son out of Egypt,” is often read at Christmas time, when the child Jesus is brought back to the Galilee from Egypt after the death of Herod the Great. However, Matt 2:15 is quoting from Hosea 11:1 where “I called my son out of Egypt” originally refers to the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt—God called His son (Israel) out of Egypt. And so, invitingly, this verse draws us to the death of Jesus during Passover season even more than the association with his birth.
In the Passover Haggadah, there is a section of “the four sons,” who each ask a question. In particular, the wicked son asks, “What is this religious ceremony to you all?” The Haggadah then explains, “the wicked son said, to you, and not to himself, and so he has excluded himself from the group and denied a principle of faith. Blunt his teeth and say to him, ‘the Lord did this for me in my going out from Egypt’ (Ex 13:8). The scripture says for me and not for him. If the wicked son had been there at the Exodus he would not have been redeemed!”
The Passover tradition expects every later Israelite generation to vicariously share in Israel’s redemption through faith. Retelling the story is supposed to be as if the celebrants themselves were included in the original Exodus.
This same theme is picked up by Paul, who applies it in the opposite direction in 1 Cor 10:1-2, “Our fathers all were under the cloud and all went through the sea. They were all baptized in relation to Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
More explicitly vicarious is Gal 2:19-20, “I was crucified with Messiah (Christ), it is no longer I who am living, but Messiah (Christ) is living in me. What I now live in the body I live through faith of the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
How can a person living in the 21st century claim to be crucified with Christ 2,000 years ago? This is a similar question that the wicked son asks on Passover night—how can a person celebrating Passover insist that God redeemed him from Egypt? And how can Paul claim that the people of Israel were baptized in relation to Moses? The answer comes through faith. A person puts their faith in the same God who acted mightily in the past and who will act mightily in the future. That action is then considered as if it had been done for both the ancient and the modern person.
This idea of vicariously joining a spiritual redemption across generations can help us understand Matthew’s thinking in 2:15. Just as God took Israel out of Egypt, so he takes the Messiah out of Egypt. When the young Jesus came out of Egypt, God was spiritually repeating and extending a mighty act from the past, across generations.
This is the principle of faith that the believer affirms at Passover—God works across generations. So, we can identify with the awesome work of redemption that God did for His people coming out of Egypt and the powerful act of salvation that Jesus completed through his death and resurrection.