As Matthew orders the stories of his Gospel, they portray Jesus as the embodiment of Israel’s stories and hopes. Most significant is the showcasing of Jesus as the new Solomon, the new Moses, and the new Israel.
- New Solomon. I’ve unpacked this at length in an earlier post, so some summary comments will suffice here. Matthew 2:1-12 describes wise men from the east who have come to see the newborn king and present him with expensive gifts fit for royalty. This reflects the hope of Isaiah 60:3-6, a passage that itself was based on what King Solomon wrote in Psalm 72. When Solomon wrote that psalm, he was alluding to the event in 1 Kings 10 when the Queen of Sheba came to him with gifts. Since Matthew 1 has already labored to show that Jesus is the son of David, it makes sense that Matthew 2 would cast him in the royal light of Solomon (a literal son of David). Jesus is the new son of David, the New Solomon.
- New Moses. I’ve also written briefly about this, but I want to say more. Moses was spared from being killed with other Hebrew babies (Exod 2:1-10), and Jesus too was spared the fate that other children met (Matt 2:13-15). When Moses was an adult, Yahweh came to him in Midian and said, ” ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.’ So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt” (Exod 4:19-20a). Remarkably similar are the words spoken to Joseph in a dream: “‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel” (Matt 2:20-21). When seen side by side, Exodus 4 has Moses going back to Egypt, and Matthew 2 has Jesus returning to Israel. This isn’t surprising, though, once we see that in Matthew 2, Israel is the new Egypt. In Jesus’ preservation from death and his return to the land of Israel, he embodies the stories of Moses when the latter was also preserved from death and returned from Midian to the land of Egypt. Jesus is the new deliverer who will lead an exodus. He is the New Moses.
- New Israel. At the end of Genesis, Joseph the son of Jacob graciously received his family into Egypt for their protection and preservation. By Jacob and the tribes going into Egypt, this was Israel going into Egypt. In Matthew 2, another Joseph (son of a later Jacob, cf. 1:16) takes Jesus into Egypt for protection and preservation. In Exodus 12, Israel made their exodus at night from their wicked ruler, and Jesus also had an exodus at night from a wicked ruler (Matt 2:13-15). At the end of the southern kingdom in Israel’s history, the people went into exile from the land of Israel, and Jesus too left the land due to an impending event that Matthew connected to the exile (Matt 2:17-18, quoting Jer 31:15). Whether through protection in Egypt, an exodus from a treacherous ruler, or leaving a land where a horrifying event connotes the exile, Jesus embodies Israel’s experiences. He is the New Israel.
As Matthew employs Israel’s history, his message is theological, not chronological (though the experiences of Jesus are, of course, chronological). Notice that the portrayal of Jesus as the New Solomon (Matt 2:1-12) takes place before the portrayal of him as the New Moses (2:13, 16), though in Israel’s history we know that Solomon came later than Moses. And the pre-exodus story of Moses returning from Midian serves as background (2:20-21) after Jesus (embodying Israel) has his own exodus (2:14-15), though we know Moses returned from Midian before Israel had their exodus from Egypt. Furthermore, the connection to Israel’s exile (2:17-18) is followed by the allusion to Moses returning from Midian to Egypt (2:20-21), though we know that the exile came long after the death of Moses.
What does this mean? Well, we shouldn’t conclude that Matthew was fuzzy regarding his knowledge of Israel’s history (i.e. its chronology). Rather, his agenda was theological. As the infancy narratives unfolded, he connected the events to experiences of Solomon, Moses, and Israel when such connections could be made. The point was that major Old Testament figures and patterns were finding their greatest significance in what was happening to Jesus.