Israel, the Son of God

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols” (vv. 1–2).

- Hosea 11:1–7

Israel’s exodus from Egypt was God’s chief old covenant act of salvation, and the prophets used it to predict a new exodus under the Messiah’s ministry (Jer. 16:14–21; Micah 7:14–17). Although the prophets certainly knew the failures of the wilderness generation, they tended to idealize that period as a time of faithfulness because, after all, that generation of Israelites heeded the incredible call to stand up to the most powerful empire of their day and follow Moses to the Promised Land (Jer. 2:6; Hos. 2:14–15; Amos 2:9–11). Compared to the prophets’ era of rampant, nonstop idolatry, the period of the exodus and wilderness wanderings was indeed a golden age.

Today’s passage reveals God’s heart toward His old covenant people, lamenting their turn from Him to the Baals and other idols. Essentially, the Lord said to His people: “How could you?” Given all He had done for them as their loving husband, Israel’s betrayal was great indeed (Hos. 11:1–4). Of course, it is not as if the Lord was incapacitated by grief, which would be impossible for an omnipotent being. Neither was Israel’s failure unexpected on God’s part (Deut. 31:14–22). Yet Israel did grieve the Lord in its dalliances with other gods, and His holiness demanded retribution (Hos. 11:5–7).

As a whole, Israel clearly failed in its calling to worship and serve the Lord. Yet as God has made His honor dependent on transforming Israel into a holy nation (Gen. 15; Ex. 32:1–14; 1 Sam. 12:22), He had to keep this promise in some way. As noted above, there would be a new exodus of a new Israel that would fulfill God’s purposes. This new Israel would have continuity with the old, for there were many saints under the old covenant, but since even the holiest saint does not possess the righteousness the Lord demands, the outworking of His plans for this new Israel would take on a new form.

The New Testament says that this all happened in Christ, who is Himself the new Israel, and who makes all who trust in Him alone, ethnic Jew and Gentile alike, into true Israelites. This is the point that Matthew makes when he says Hosea 11:1 is fulfilled in Christ’s return with His parents to Nazareth from Egypt (Matt. 2:13–15, 19–23). He is not saying that Hosea 11:1 originally had Jesus in view but that Jesus repeats the history of Israel in His own person. He fulfills Hosea’s text because He is the true, faithful Son of God who perfectly lives out the calling first given to old covenant Israel.

Coram Deo

New Testament fulfillment language does not always mean a prophet directly saw an aspect of Jesus’ ministry. When the Apostles say Christ fulfilled a prophecy, they sometimes mean that He is the true realization of a particular old covenant theme or institution. Looking for such things when we read the Old Testament helps us better understand Christ’s work. These themes and institutions include such things as exodus, exile, restoration, prophet, priest, king, temple, and Israel.

Passages for Further Study

Jeremiah 5:7–9
Hosea 14:8
Hebrews 8
Revelation 7

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343