PROPHECY AND PRE-WRITTEN HISTORY
I overheard a Christian scholar claim that Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 (in Matthew 2:13-15) was an abuse of OT scripture. He wasn’t saying anything like: “Matthew was making an ‘application’ of Hosea 11:1.” If he’d been saying that, the remark would almost have been harmless because it’s what preachers do all the time. They go to a text that is there for one purpose and they “apply” it in an entirely different direction and for an entirely different reason. [I’m not suggesting that that’s always harmless—far from it.]
No, this scholar was quite exercised about it. The Hosea 11:1 text, he insisted, wasn’t even a prophecy (in the sense of a specific prediction)—it was a reference to an event about half a century before Hosea. Anyone with a bit of sense can see that, he said, and I wondered why Matthew hadn’t seen it?
Maybe Matthew did see it but didn’t care and just threw it in for “filler” material. Maybe Matthew didn’t see it and in his eagerness to make a point he picked on a text he hadn’t really done his homework on. However you construe it Matthew comes out on the losing end.
Hmmm. Maybe there’s more to the text and the event in the life of Jesus than this scholar had seen. I tend to side with Matthew who was writing to Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and who were living among Jews who did not. I tend to think Matthew wouldn’t have made points to enrich and strengthen the faith of Messianic Jews when a non-believer could as easily see what this Christian scholar so easily saw. Imagine a Jewish Christian using Matthew’s abusive point to a non-believing Jewish brother. Would the non-believer not simply poke his finger through the flimsy falsehood and shame the believer? [“You poor fool, Hosea 11:1 is no ‘prophecy’ and it certainly has nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth and Egypt.”] I purpose a little piece on Hosea 11:1 later.
Maybe Matthew saw more in Hosea 11:1 and the person and life of Jesus than the scholar saw. Part of the reason for that, I’m supposing, is that we tend to reduce “prophecy” to “prediction” and then we reduce prediction to something like, “pre-written history” about some event or other. The NT use of OT prophecy has so many angles to it and certainly to think of “prophecy” as pre-written history that must be fulfilled as written takes leave of how the NT works with OT prophecy.
Biblical prophecy is set within the context of God’s character and purpose toward the human family which he seeks to finally bless with peace and joy in deathless life under Jesus Christ. That life and blessing can only be completed in relationship with God and must be shaped by the nature and character of God. It’s that truth that lies mostly unspoken behind all that the prophets (OT and NT) have announced to us.
It’s because the Holy Father cannot (because he will not) live at peace with sin and unrighteousness that he brings judgments on his human children. To see his judgments as something other than his redemptive love at work is a profound mistake. The Holy Father’s “wrath” is another face of his holy love and redeeming grace and its aim is to destroy what makes that “wrath” necessary.
God’s wrath is his response to a specific problem as he works to bring to fulfillment his overarching purpose. It is not to be isolated from that Fatherly intention nor is it to be denied its place.
This means that “prophecy” of a blessed future is to be understood as “promise” and promise must be understood in light of the nature and character of the Holy Father who will not live at peace with evil or make a covenant with impenitent unrighteousness. Therefore, this means that all prophecy/promise of future blessing presumes a mutual loving relationship between the Holy Father and his human family rather than God waving his magic wand like a good fairy and changing everything into something other than it is.
A blessed future under the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ requires a free and glad allegiance to him from his children.
There’s no blessed future without God but there is no blessed future with God without free human righteousness! And unless you believe humans are mere pawns in God's great chess-game this means that by his grace we must freely choose to live together in love for him and one another.