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Is "My Son" in Hosea 11:1 Israel or Jesus?

and How do you Prove Sin to Someone?

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Question #1: 

I have some questions regarding Matthew 2:13-15. Will you please help me understand the reference to Hosea 11:1 per the NIV bible?

Verses 13-15 of Matthew chapter 2 explains that Joseph was commanded by an angel in a dream to gather Jesus and Mary and take them to Egypt as Herod was looking for the child Jesus to kill Jesus. The angel told Joseph that he, the angel, would let Joseph know when it was safe to come out of hiding in Egypt.

Verse 15 of Matthew chapter 2 in the NIV bible states, “…And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'” The NIV version references Hosea 11:1 which states, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Verse 2 of Hosea 11 goes on to say, “But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me.”

I am confused, as it seems to me that the son mentioned in Hosea 11:1 is Israel, not Jesus. God brought Israel out of Egypt through Moses. He also brought Jesus out of Egypt, but Hosea 11:1 seems to be speaking about Israel. Hence the non-capitalization of the word son in Hosea 11:1. If it were Jesus that were the son spoken about in Hosea 11:1, wouldn't son in Hosea 11:1 be capitalized the way son is in the new testament when referencing Jesus? Additionally, Hosea would have been written prior to Matthew, so why would Hosea use the past tense of the verb to call? “Out of Israel I called my son.” If Hosea were prophesying Jesus being brought out of Egypt, and if Hosea was written before Matthew, wouldn't Hosea have written, “Out of Israel I will call my Son.”? Finally, why would Hosea 11:1 be speaking of Israel as a child and God's love for him (him being Israel) and talking about bringing Jesus out of Egypt all in the same sentence and verse, and then go on in Hosea 11:2 to say that Israel just “went”. I would greatly appreciate any help and guidance you can provide.

Response#1:  In answer to your question, first let me say that while there are many disparaging things that can be said about the NIV version, and while many study notes are often misleading and inaccurate (whether or not they are "official" NIV notes or unique to a particular edition), that the issue of quotation here is something that flows from Matthew and not from the NIV should be made clear right away:

". . . and so was fulfilled what the Lord said to the prophet (i.e., Hosea)" . . .
Matthew 2:15

The issue of quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament is a somewhat complicated one, and to my mind a subject which is generally not well understood in many Christian circles, even among those who spend much time and effort interpreting scripture (see the link: The Septuagint and Greek New Testament Quotations). Your series of questions is quite good, and gets to the nub of many of the difficult problems involved. I have written in detail elsewhere about some of the related aspects of this question (please see: Coming Tribulation: Part 1: Introduction: section IV.1: "Hermeneutic Issues"), but I will try to give the gist of my understanding of this here, then address the specifics of your set of questions.

The Bible is the Word of God. It is undiluted truth in its original form. This is true of every part of the Bible, the Old Testament prophecies included. What is often not understood, even by those who accept those principles of hermeneutics, is that Old Testament prophecy often has several layers of interpretation. That is to say, there may be a near term application, and a future one as well. There are good reasons for this. God was not unaware of the end of history any more than its beginning (or of anything and everything in-between), and His words as given to the prophets deliberately take into account not only the contemporary situation in Israel at the time of writing, but also far future events that often the prophets themselves did not understand at the time (cf. Dan.12:9 with 12:10):

The prophets [of old] diligently investigated and inquired about this salvation [destined to come to you gentiles (cf. v.1)], when they prophesied about the grace [that was to come] to you (i.e., the mass calling out of the gentiles). For they were eager to discover the precise time the Spirit of Christ within them was signifying as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow (i.e., the filling up of the Church). For it was revealed to them that in prophesying these things, they were not so much serving themselves as they were you - and these same things have now been proclaimed to you through those who gave you the gospel through the Holy Spirit, sent from heaven - even angels want to look into these things.
1st Peter 1:10-12

As the passage above makes clear, one such major category of "closed" prophecies revolved around our Lord and His first advent. Many of these prophecies were, like the passage you ask about, also cases of "double fulfillment", precisely because there were to be two advents, something that was not and perhaps could not be properly understood before the time (cf. the colt and the donkey upon which Christ rides, and the fact that He returns on a white horse also: see the link: "Seeing double in Matthew"). Wherever there is such "double fulfillment", there is always a good biblical reason for it. An even more prominent category of such "double fulfillment" is what I call "the Day of the Lord paradigm", where Old Testament prophets would use coming contemporary divine judgment as an analogy to the Tribulation, and vice versa (see the link: The "Day of the Lord paradigm"). To sum up, Old Testament prophecy often has more than one application. When it does, it is always making an important point of comparison between the two prophetic references. In this case, that comparison is between the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh and the parallel it furnishes for Jesus' early life, one which foreshadows moreover the Father's of Him deliverance through a life of suffering and opposition, especially the ordeal of His final passion, into complete victory at the cross and in resurrection (cf. His bringing of his “son” Israel into the depths of the Red Sea and back out again (a clear picture of death and resurrection).

So as to the quotation in Matthew 2:14-15 of Hosea 11:1, the son mentioned there is indeed Israel, but then also Jesus. The comparison between our Lord, the first born of Israel, and Israel as a whole has parallels elsewhere in scripture (cf. Is.42, where in vv.1-7 we see Jesus shining through as "My Servant", though Israel is clearly the "servant" by the time we get to verse 19; also compare Is.49:1-7, where the passage is largely referring to the Messiah, although the recipient of the prophecy is called “Israel” in v.3). In your set of verses, "My Son" would not have been realized to be Jesus by Hosea, but Matthew under the inspiration of the Spirit recognizes that not only is this passage to be applied historically to Israel, but also prophetically to the Messiah. Separating the two in prophecy is often difficult in any case since, in the case of true Israel, Jesus and Israel are “one” in precisely the same way that we His Church are “one body with Him”.

It is true that in the NIV and many versions the "Son" is not capitalized, but that is an interpretation of the version, not a reflection of the Hebrew. There is no distinction between lower and upper case in the Hebrew manuscript (or the original Greek either, for that matter). For a version to write "Son" would be problematic in any case, for it would suggest 1) that the reference to Jesus was known by the prophet, and 2) that the Messianic reference was the primary or perhaps the only meaning of the verse. As to the tense, it is also true that the verb is in the perfect tense in Hebrew. However we have in that language, and especially frequently in prophecy, a phenomenon known as the "prophetic perfect", whereby many of the prophecies translated as future tenses in English are really in the perfect tense in Hebrew (so this verb could go either way - something hard for a translation to reflect). The idea is that the prophecy is so certainly going to happen because of its divine imprimatur, it can be described as having indeed already happened (though its actual fulfillment might be centuries of millennia distant).

Finally, your point about the rapid shift of emphasis in Hosea 11 away from anything that could be considered Messianic is also a common feature of Hebrew prophecy. About all that this tells us in most instances is where the double application ends. For example, in Isaiah 7:14, the Messianic reference to "Immanuel" comes to an end almost immediately and reverts back to Isaiah's son entirely in verse 15-16 where we now have the near term prophecy of the demise of Judah's enemies, Rezin and Remaliah's son. Similarly, in Daniel chapter 11, verse 21 starts a section that is doubly applicable to both Antiochus Epiphanes (near term) and antichrist (far term), but by the time we reach verse 36, there is no reasonable way of relating the verses to anyone but antichrist. This shifting in and out of single/double application is to be found in all the Old Testament prophets (as for example in the Psalms where some of David's remarks apply only to himself, while others in the same Psalm apply equally to His greater Son, the Messiah: cf. in Ps.69, verse 9 and other well known verses clearly refer also to our Lord, but verse 5 clearly does not).

So there is a very definite method in the meaning, application, and proper interpretation of Old Testament prophecy (and its New Testament use), and one that squares completely with the inerrant truth of the Word. This is true even if some experience and finesse is required to come to a complete understanding of what is really being said.

In our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #2: 

My girlfriend and I have been together for a while now, and when I've approached the subject of Christianity with her, things always comes back to the issue of sin. She says she has no problem believing in Christ, his being here on earth, the cross, the Bible, or his purpose, but she has a hard time “believing in Sin”. I can't get anything more clear out of her, but would really like to find a way to help here understand it. How do you prove “sin” to someone who is not a believer, and probably doesn't want to be judged? If you have any advice it would be greatly appreciated.


To begin, there is no question about the issue of universal sin from the point of view of the Bible. Everyone sins (2Chron.6:36; Eccl.7:20; Rom.3:9); we have all sinned and fall short of God's glory (Rom.3:23; 5:12). Furthermore, sin is both multifarious and subtle. That is to say, it is both treacherous in the ways it deceives us (cf. Rom.6:12; 6:21; 7:5; 7:24; Gal.5:19-21; Jas.1:15), and is also much more far reaching than many people think:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies - and whatever is similar to all these things. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Galatians 5:19-21

The part of the quote in bold above is particularly instructive. Paul gives a number of catalogs of sin in his epistles (e.g., 1Cor.6:9-11; Eph.4:29-32; 5:3-7) in addition to castigating particular sins and sinful conduct (cf. 1Cor.6:18; 1Tim.6:9), but by these words above he shows that no one could ever define sin in all its length and depth and breadth, for "whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:23). The upshot of understanding this is to breath humility into every Christian heart. Knowing the extensiveness of sin at once makes us more appreciative of what Christ did for us (cf., Lk.7:40-50), and at the same time ought at least to make us all the more determined to pursue sanctification "without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb.12:14).

All of the above I am sure that you know. From the standpoint of the specifics of your question, let me say that according to the scriptures coming to an awareness of our mortality and our essential sinfulness is universal in the human race (among all who attain the age and mentality necessary to be accountable before God):

God's wrath is about to be revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness - on men who suppress the truth [about God] in their unrighteousness. For that which can be known about God [from everyday experience] is obvious to them, because God has made it obvious. His nature, though invisible, is nevertheless plainly apparent, and has been since His foundation of the world, for it may be clearly inferred from this creation of His - [this is true of] both His eternal power and His divinity - so that they are without any excuse: they knew about God, but they neither honored Him as God nor thanked Him. Instead, they gave themselves over to [the] vanity [of this world] in their speculations, and their senseless hearts were filled with darkness. Claiming to be wise, they became foolish, for they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for images and likenesses of corruptible men, of birds and beasts and reptiles (i.e., idolatry).
Romans 1:18-23

Since according to the Bible everyone knows about God, their own mortality, and their own essential sinfulness, self-justification is dangerous for everyone, because it is a sign that the person has turned away from the true light (Jn.3:19-21). In the case of unbelievers, as the passage above shows, it is the rule that after rejecting the truth, their hearts become hardened, and all sorts of rationalizing of behavior often follows. Though they were born with “eternity in their hearts” (Eccl.3:11; cf. Mk.4:25), they have traded their birthright of eternal life for a mess of potage (cf. Gen.25:29-34; Rom.9:13; Heb.12:16-17).

But failure to appreciate sin for what it is is also dangerous to believers. Ultimately, it is sin that turns us away from our Lord. We all sin, but the believer who is walking close to Jesus is pursuing holiness day by day, and is forgiven upon confession of sin. Those who give in to sin completely will inevitably become calloused in their consciences, and if left uncorrected this process eventually leads to the death of faith. You will find out more about all of this in Part 3B of the Basics series, “Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin”.

I am certainly in no position to judge someone I have not even met. It is also true that such disagreements are sometimes more reflective of differing theological opinions or the way that these are being expressed than they are of a person's spiritual status quo. What I can say is that all believers need to have a realistic view of the dangers and the power of sin - for their own spiritual safety. Unless we acknowledge the wrong we do, confessing it before the Lord, we run the risk of eventually ignoring it, then justifying it, and finally of falling away from God's grace entirely when our faith “dies out” through the process of apostasy. Here is a portion of Peter lesson #15, "Confession of Sin":

John's Primer on Sin: 1st John 1:5-10:

            v.5: And this is the message which we have heard from Him and report to you: that God is light and there is no darkness in Him.

This verse states the principle emphatically that God has nothing to do with sin. He is not the originator of it and bears no responsibility for it whatsoever. Nor does He condone it in the least. Sin is foreign, antithetical to God, so if we would belong to God, sin can have no place with us either.

            v.6: If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and yet we walk in the darkness, we are lying, and not accomplishing the truth.

Since God and sin are unalterably opposed to each other, we must choose whether to follow God or sin. We cannot simultaneously follow the dark path of sin and at the same time have a relationship (fellowship) with God. If we claim that we are enjoying a relationship with God while living under the dark power of sin, we are only deceiving ourselves and making God out to be a liar, for He tells us that He cannot accept what is sinful. Without the power and wonder of God's grace, these two verses would be terrifying for anyone viewing themselves and their lives with an honest heart. The words of the disciples spring to mind: "Who then can be saved?" (Matt.19:25).

            v.7: But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we do have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

The use of the Greek word pas (“all”) without a definite article suggests that John is here referring to all acts of personal sin. For those who choose against God in this life, there is no escape from sin and therefore no fellowship with the holy people of God. But for those who chose to walk in the light and follow Christ, God has provided a means of cleansing from every aspect of sin: the work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross (referred to here and often in scripture as "His blood", cf. Matt.26:28). Because of what Jesus Christ did for us in dying in our place, the Father is justified in accepting His work on our behalf, forgiving us all our sins, and considering us clean despite the sinful nature we retain in these earthly bodies, and despite the personal sins we continue to commit. In the analogy, covering the sin God the Father sees "the blood of Christ" with which we "have been sprinkled" (cf. Heb.10:22). He is satisfied that the death penalty for sin has been paid on our behalf. He regards us as guiltless on account of our relationship with His Son rather than judging us according to our necessarily sin-tainted merits. Note carefully in verse seven, however, that believers who are approaching the Christian life in the correct way ("walking in the light") still need cleansing from sin as part of their Christian walk.

            v.8: If we say that we don't sin, we're deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Verse eight is an important caveat to believers who would rather not think of themselves as sinners. If we are unaware of committing any transgressions lately, it is most likely because we lack a clear understanding of the wide ranging and insidious nature of sin. The scripture here is quite clear. As believers, we still sin. It is true that we are commanded not to sin. It is true that suppression of sin is a necessity for spiritual growth and even spiritual safety. But it is also true that as long as we inhabit these imperfect bodies and reside in the devil's world, we must continue our struggle against personal sin, even resisting "to the point of blood" (Heb.12:4; cf. 1Pet.4:1). Verse eight is written neither to discourage us to resist sin, nor to encourage us to commit it, but rather to alert us to the cold, hard reality of the situation in which we find ourselves, and to awaken us to the necessity of dealing with personal sin in the correct, biblical way, namely, confession.

            v.9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just so as to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Verse nine means that God's forgiveness of our personal sins is consistent with both His faithfulness (He doesn't break His word) and righteousness (because of Christ's pre-payment on our behalf); when we confess our sins in prayer to the Father, He forgives us and restores us to full fellowship with Himself and His Son.

            v.10: If we say "I haven't sinned!" we make Him out to be a liar and His Word isn't in us.

Confession of sin is an essential part of the Christian's daily walk. Combined with regular self-examination, a biblical understanding of personal sin should provide plenty of material for the average Christian to confess. The claim of "sinlessness" is an erroneous one, and is extremely hazardous to the Christian's spiritual health (1Cor.11:28-32).

In the One who died for all of our sins, redeeming us from them by His death in our place on the cross that we might have eternal life, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

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