Friday, March 09, 2007

The Great Foreshadowing: Matthew 1-4

I've been reading and rereading my way slowly through the New Testament book of Matthew and something struck me that I'd never seen before, though I've read Matthew probably a dozen times.

The first four chapters (and perhaps more, but I haven't gotten there yet) parallel the life of the nation of Israel.

  • Israel traces its ancestry back to Abraham. Jesus traces his ancestry back to Abraham.
  • Israel was born in the promised land. Jesus was born in the promised land.
  • Israel went to Egypt. Jesus went to Egypt.
  • Moses called the people into the desert. John the Baptist called the people into the desert.
  • Moses "baptized" people through the water of the Red Sea (Paul compares the crossing of the Red Sea to baptism [1 Corinthians 10:1-2]). John baptized people in water.
  • The people of Israel were "baptized." Jesus was baptized.
  • Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness.
  • Israel was tested in the wilderness (Deuteronomy. 8:2). Jesus was tested in the wilderness.
  • Israel was hungry in the wilderness (Deut. 8:3). Jesus was hungry in the wilderness.
  • God provided Israel with food in the wilderness. God provided Jesus with (spiritual) food in the wilderness. (I think this is suggested by Jesus' reply to the devil in Matt. 3:4, that "Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.")
  • When Moses leadership ended, Joshua took over. When John's leadership ended (with his imprisonment), Jesus took over.
  • In Hebrew, Joshua's name and Jesus' name are the same.
  • Joshua went throughout the promised land with his army. Jesus went throughout the promised land with his followers.
There may be more parallels, but it seems that at least Matthew is saying that the whole history of Israel is a foreshadowing or prophesy of Jesus life.

I think I first noticed this in reading Matthew 2:15, that says Jesus' return from Egypt was a fulfillment of the prophesy: "Out of Egypt I called my son." But in looking back at Hosea 11:1 it appears that the passage was referring to God calling the people of Israel (figuratively called "my son") out of Egypt.

When I had casually examined this passage in the past, I kinda thought, "Ya know, Matthew, I think that's a bit of a stretch." But now I believe I see what Matthew meant. He meant that God figuratively calling "his son" out of Egypt was a foreshadowing of God literally calling "his son" out of Egypt.

Further, the parallelism was emphasized for me with Jesus' answer when the devil tempted him to make food out of rocks. Jesus, enduring trials in the wilderness, quoted Deut. 8:3, which speaks of Israel enduring trials in the wilderness. That pretty much clinched it for me that the parallels were not an accident but quite intentional.

So anyway, so what if the history of Israel foreshadows the life of Jesus?

Well, I think there is a lot more to it than I'm seeing, but one obvious answer is that it reinforces the point - as I mentioned in the essay about Jesus' genealogy - that Jesus wasn't someone who just appeared out of the blue, but that he is central and all-important in God's plan. That a nation - a whole nation - should be used by God to foreshadow the life of one man makes me shiver with awe at how great that man must be.