I don’t know about you, but I am terrible when it comes to understanding predictions, particularly when it comes to the stock market. Some say, “buy gold, because it will double in price”. Some say to invest in the stock of company X, etc. All of this is based on supposedly predictive factors. It is like you need a “prophet” if you want to make a “profit”.
However, the best advice I have received is that you should stick with good, sound financial principles learned retrospectively over time and leave the rest to the speculators who have more money than sense in their heads: Diversify your portfolio instead of chasing the latest stock pick, get out of debt, etc., principles like that. Sometimes, the best way we can understand “prophecy” is only when we have the privilege of looking back.
The challenge can be no less different than when it comes to the prophecies of the Old Testament about what we see in the New Testament. Critics sometime charge that Christians misread prophesy in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of Christ. As we continue to look at Jesus as the Son of Man (start here then go to here), we need to step back for a moment and first address the issue of prophecy. This can be a complex topic for sure, but a lot of our problems about Bible prophecy sometimes come from not understanding the importance of looking back for perspective.
Matthew’s Use of Hosea as “Prophecy”: A Mistake or an Insight into a More Profound Reality?
Consider this passage from the prophet Hosea:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.Hosea 11:1
Hosea was writing under the shadow of the impending Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century B.C. The Northern Kingdom had fallen into serious idolatry and Hosea has foreseen that God in judgment would send Assyria to wipe out that nation. Nevertheless, the Book of Hosea does offer some hope. He draws on the history of the Exodus, whereby God delivered the nation of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. God affectionately calls Israel His “son”. Ironically, the Northern Kingdom was tempted to foolishly build an alliance with Egypt in an attempt ward off the Assyrian threat. Nevertheless, God had not forgotten His “son”. Even though Assyria will soon fall heavy on Israel, Hosea looks retrospectively at the Exodus to say with anticipation that God will redeem His people again.
When we get to the New Testament, we find Hosea appearing again as Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ family flight into Egypt to escape Herod:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 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 my son.”(Mathew 2:13-15 ESV)
Many observers have been very perplexed by Matthew’s last sentence, that somehow Jesus is fulfilling a prophecy made by Hosea. After all, what Hosea is talking about in this particular passage is not a predictive prophecy about the future. Rather, it is just the opposite. He is looking at God’s faithfulness in the past. He is looking back, not forward. Perhaps there are some well-intentioned commentators, in a strained effort to preserve the inerrancy of the text, who will try to come up with some pretty fanciful ideas to make Hosea say that this is literally a prophetic prediction of the coming of the Messiah. But this type of reading is neither very convincing nor necessary.
Instead, a better way of looking at this passage is to think about it more in terms of an analogy rather than literal, predictive prophecy. Just as Israel as God’s son was delivered out of Egypt, so is Jesus, as God’s “Son”, living out the history of Israel in His own life. But it is an analogy with a difference. In Hosea, Israel as God’s son is disobedient, falling into false worship of pagan gods. Jesus, on the other hand, is God’s faithful Son. It is in this sense that Jesus “fulfills”, using Matthew’s word, what Hosea is talking about. Jesus as the faithful Son is able to prophetically fulfill the expectations that national Israel in her disobedience was not able to do. In looking back for perspective, Matthew understands that Jesus embodies the true mission of Israel according to the original purpose to be a blessing to all of the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:3). In other words, Jesus is the fulfillment of the true Israel.
We see this idea of Jesus fulfilling the expectations of what Israel was supposed to do elsewhere in the Gospels. For example, the Hebrew people were taken through the Red Sea waters from Egypt only to become a nation of grumblers. In contrast, as Jesus is baptized He is taken through the waters and thereby receives the Father’s blessing through His remarkable ministry. Elsewhere, Jesus’ temptations in the “Wilderness” for forty days is meant to parallel Israel’s forty years in the Sinai Wilderness. For national Israel, God had practically wiped out an entire generation due to Israel’s unfaithfulness, whereas Jesus was faithful, making it through His testing period with flying colors.
Biblical Prophecy and Typology
Scholars generally refer to this method of interpretation as typology, seeing persons or statements in the Old Testament as types that prefigure something fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. Prophecy understood this way is sort of like reading a good mystery novel. You can get easily get lost in all of the details along the way in a well written “who-dun-it”. But at the climatic moment when everyone is in the room, the narrator tells how all of the previous details fit together. You find out not only that it was “the butler who did it”, but in looking back you discover why the butler did some of the things he did earlier in the story.
The study of biblical prophecy is an incredibly rich endeavor, yielding a greater return than trying to follow some hot-shot financial guru making stock picks on Wall Street. Caution is still required, which we will explore later on Veracity, as it is possible to go overboard with typology and neglect more straight-forward readings of predictive prophecy.
However, when you begin to consider that Jesus is living out through His life and ministry the true mission of Israel, in line with what God has done before, a whole new world of understanding begins to open up. The application of typology can help us to better understand biblical prophecy. How does this relate to Jesus’ specific claim of being the Son of Man? We will cover that connection in another future Veracity post.
For a fuller treatment of the Hosea/Matthew connection, I would recommend this essay by Kevin DeYoung, with the Gospel Coalition.
Does the idea of reading biblical prophecy as typology intrigue you as it does me? Eighteenth century theologian, Jonathan Edwards, was probably one the most creative American thinkers, if not the most significant American philosopher ever. One of Edwards most valuable contributions is learning how nature, history, and even current events typologically reveal to us Biblical truth. The following is a thirteen minute interaction between Joe Rigney and Douglas Wilson discussing how Edwards understood typology. For those who do not know who Douglas Wilson is, he is one of the founders of the contemporary classical Christian education movement. Your head might receive a jolt, but then you might find Scripture unfolding before you in a whole new way. As Wilson says, “Without typology, you have no reason for rebuking the Jews for missing Jesus“: