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That It Might Be Fulfilled.

One aspect of the Gospel of Matthew which must be seen as important is his concentration on the fulfilment of the purposes of God as revealed in the Old Testament, and on the fact that they are being brought to completion in Jesus Christ. For Matthew sees the Old Testament as being fulfilled in the New. Indeed it may be said that Matthew sees in Jesus Christ the complete flowering of the Old Testament buds. He sees in Jesus not only the continuation of the Old Testament story but the capping of it in every part. All over the Old Testament are buds which are opening up. In the coming of Jesus Christ we have the full flowering.

But while he does make this very clear, it is done with much more finesse than many commentators are willing to give him credit for. Rather than being seen as just someone who quotes from a list of proof texts, which he then rather naively sees as being fulfilled despite their really applying to totally different situations than the one he has in mind, we need to recognise that in fact he has thought deeply about the context of such sayings, uses them wisely, and applies them with some depth of thought.

Many interpreters of Matthew, especially sceptical ones, seem to think that he included in his narrative a list of ‘prophecies’ which ‘foretold the future’, a kind of rather naive proof texts, which he took from the Old Testament, or from a book of Testimonia compiled by enthusiastic but naive Christians, (like they did at Qumran), and then equally naively himself proceeded to apply them to situations with which they were not really connected, claiming that thereby they were ‘fulfilled’. The assumption is then made that he was hoping by this to convince people that what he said in his Gospel was Biblical and that this proved the genuineness of Jesus Christ. The suggestion, in other words, is that he sought to indicate that what had been said in Scripture actually happened in the incidents he is describing, even though the original prophecy when considered rationally had no real connection with the application he gave it. And the Dead Sea Scrolls are often then cited as providing examples of the use of similar methods.

So at this stage we must enter a caveat. It is quite right that we see the Gospels against the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of Qumran, as well as against any other information that we have about the background of their day. They can certainly help us to understand the terminology of those days, and ideas that were being passed around. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the writings of Qumran were long ago ‘buried in the dust’ as only being of significance to the few, and are even now only studied as providing an interesting sidelight into certain limited aspects of history. In contrast the writings of the four evangelists, and especially Matthew, lived on in order to change the world, and in order to fashion history. And the reason for that was not as a result of some freak accident of history, but was because of the quality of understanding and thought that lay behind them. It was precisely because they did not have the same attitudes and approach as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and because the One Who taught in them was seen to be unique in His teachings and worth following, that their words did transform the world.

The point therefore is that the Gospels had a significance and meaning which went far beyond anything that Qumran ever achieved, precisely because they were based on more solid foundations, and came out of far healthier soil, and revealed Someone Whom all saw as distinctive from all others, and offered a way of life that appealed to all kinds of people, all of which was backed up by documents which could be accepted as reliable. If we fail to find a great difference between the approach and ideas of the Gospel writers and that of the scribes of Qumran, it is not due to the fact that it is not there, but simply to the fact of our own inability to appreciate the difference. If Matthew really had been the naive manipulator of his material that many modern scholars would like us to believe it is difficult to see how his Gospel could have become the major Gospel in use by the Christian community around the world and an essential part of that literature which transformed much of the known world, and is continuing to do so to this day. A Gospel written on the basis put forward by many modern scholars would just not have done so. It would simply have passed into history to become the interesting plaything of a few historians interested in ancient culture, like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A good example of Matthew’s approach, (an example which has even been held up for ridicule), can be found in Matthew 2.15, where the words of Hosea 11.1 are quoted by him, ‘out of Egypt have I called My son’. These originally referred to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and are then said by Matthew to be ‘fulfilled’ in terms of Jesus’ coming out of Egypt. Now at first sight, until we look at the context in Hosea, this appears strange. We might quite reasonably ask, how could a declaration about the children of Israel coming out of Egypt refer to Someone born over twelve hundred years later, just because He also came out of Egypt? And the problem is that many then simply stop there. As a result they suggest that Matthew has simply taken the words totally out of context, looking at them as though Hosea was acting like a fortune-teller and was ‘foretelling’ what was to happen in the future, and has then simply referred them to Jesus without any real justification. But we would suggest that to interpret him in that way is to be guilty of the same naivete as they credit to him, for it is a complete misrepresentation of Matthew’s thought, and is to ignore the real context of the words in Hosea, as we shall see presently. For, as we shall see, Hosea’s whole point in Hosea 11 is to make clear that the calling of Israel out of Egypt was not just referring to one incident, but to an enduring principle on which God was acting through history, which He would necessarily one day bring to completion because it was part of His will and purposes. And we must repeat that it is Hosea himself who makes that quite clear once the whole chapter is read and considered. But before pursuing this matter further let us consider what Matthew actually meant when he spoke of something as ‘being fulfilled’.

What Did Matthew Mean By ‘That It Might Be Fulfilled?

The first question that we must ask when we consider Matthew’s attitude in such passages as these is, what did Matthew mean when he said, ‘That it might be fulfilled’? Is it really true that he simply looked at the prophecies and said, ‘O look. This is what they said and now it has happened’. Or did he rather mean by it something that had a deeper significance than that? Fortunately we are not left to speculate on the matter, for he sometimes uses the word ‘to fulfil’ elsewhere in a way that makes his meaning crystal clear, a use which we must now consider.

For example in 5.17-18 he says, quoting words of Jesus, “Do not think that I came to destroy the law, or the prophets. I came not to destroy, but to fulfil (plerowsai), for truly I say to you, Until heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, until all things be accomplished (genetai)’. And then he goes on to show how Jesus amplified the Law in such a way as to bring out its deeper significance. He was ‘filling it to the full’. So however else these words are to be interpreted it is clear that they are not just to be seen as referring to a ‘foretelling’ which will now be seen as ‘having happened’. To ‘fulfil’ here signifies far more than just that something that was foretold would finally happen. The idea is rather that in some way or other what was spoken in the past will be given deeper meaning and that the buds will flower. They will come to their final completion in a fully satisfactory way. We might therefore translate plerowsai here as ‘fill it to the full’ or ‘bring about its completeness’.

In the same way when Jesus said, “Allow it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil (plerowsai) all righteousness’ (Matthew 3.15), He is not speaking of the fulfilment of a prophecy that has been foretold beforehand. He is again rather speaking of something that ‘fills to the full’. It is an indication that He intends to reveal a complete righteousness which is lacking in nothing.

However, an even more important example is found in Matthew 23.29-36. There Jesus tells the Scribes and Pharisees to ‘fill up (plerowsate) the measure of your fathers’ who slew the prophets, informs them of the messengers that He will send out whom they themselves will cruelly mistreat and even kill, and in comparison cites Old Testament examples, all of which illustrates what is to come on the present generation because of their similar, and even worse, behaviour. Here then the verb pleroo clearly indicates ‘filling up to the full’. What their fathers have done, they will fill to the full.

So in view of this, when considering Matthew’s words, we should at least stop ourselves short and ask ourselves, is this what Matthew also means when he elsewhere speaks of ‘fulfilment’. Is he also in those verses looking at something additional which can be seen as ‘filling to the full’ and ‘completing’ what has gone before? In order to consider the matter further we shall first of all list these verses and consider what Matthew is trying to do through them. They are as follows:

  • 1) ‘Now all this is come about, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Behold a virgin will be with child and will bring forth a son, and they will call His name Immanuel” which is being interpreted, ‘God with us’ (1.22).
  • 2) ‘And He was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (2.15).
  • 3) ‘Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not” (2.17-18).
  • 4) ‘And He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, that He should be called a Nazarene’ (2.23).
  • 5) ‘For this is he who was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make you ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (3.3).
  • 6) ‘And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that sat in darkness saw a great light, and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, to them did light spring up” (4.14-16).
  • 7) ‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our diseases” (8.17).
  • 8) ‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul is well pleased, I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will declare judgment to the Gentiles. He will not strive, nor cry aloud, nor will any one hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed will He not break, and smoking flax will He not quench, until He sends forth judgment unto victory. And in His name will the Gentiles hope” (12.17-21).
  • 9) ‘And to them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, “By hearing you will hear, and will in no wise understand, and seeing you will see, and will in no wise perceive. For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them’ (13.14-17).
  • 10) ‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet (Psalm 78.2), saying, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things which have been hidden from the foundation of the world” (13.35).
  • 11) ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you saying, “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (15.7-9).
  • 12) ‘Now this is come about that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell you the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King comes to you, meek, and riding on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass” (21.4-5).
  • 13) ‘Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures, The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This was the Lord’s doing and it was marvellous in our eyes” (21.42).
  • 14) “How then should the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?” (26.54).
  • 15) ‘In that hour said Jesus to the multitudes, “Are you come out as against a robber with swords and staves to seize me? I sat daily in the temple teaching, and you took me not. But all this is come about, that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him, and fled’ (26.55-56).
  • 16) ‘Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me” (27.9-10).

An analysis of these sixteen examples reveals their diversification.

  • Twice he says, ‘that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying’ (1 & 2), and we should note that in each case where this formula is used it refers to the bringing forth of a ‘son’. God is now acting in the world through His chosen representative.
  • Twice he says ‘then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet saying’ (3 & 16). Thus he uses a specific formula for Jeremiah which is different from the one he uses for others, and mentions Jeremiah by name, for Jeremiah is the weeping prophet, and the prophet who specifically declared judgment on the Temple.
  • Once he says, ‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets , that --’ (4). (Note the plural).
  • Once he says ‘this is He who was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying’ (5).
  • Three times he says ‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet/Isaiah the prophet, saying’ (6, 8 & 12).
  • Twice he says ‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet/Isaiah the prophet, saying’ (7 & 10).
  • Once he says, ‘to them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says --’ (9).
  • Once he says, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you saying --’ (11).
  • Once Jesus says, “Have you never read in the Scriptures --” (13).
  • Once Jesus says, ‘how then should the Scripture be fulfilled that thus it must be’ (14).
  • Once Jesus says, ‘all this is come about that the Scriptures might be fulfilled’ (15).

He also shows Jesus as referring to ‘it is written’ or ‘have you never read’ or similar, in 4.4, 7, 10; 21.16, 42; 22.43, and refers more indirectly to the Scriptures in a number of other cases, including the voice from Heaven in 3.17.

Certain things should be noted here. Firstly that it is only when he speaks of ‘the bringing forth of a son’ that the prophecy is said to be spoken ‘by the Lord’ through the prophet. Secondly that when he speaks of the words of Jeremiah he uses a specific phrase which he uses of no one else, seemingly for no other reason than to differentiate him from the others and to emphasise their connection with Jeremiah. (In other words he is thinking carefully about what he says). Thirdly that no phrase is used more than three times, and even then one of the three differs slightly from the other two (having ‘the prophet’ in contrast with ‘Isaiah the prophet’). Fourthly that twice he speaks of ‘the prophets’ in the plural so that in those cases he is speaking of a principle of Scripture rather than a particular one. Fifthly that when reference is made to something as being referred to in the Scriptures (always on the lips of Jesus) it is in some ways in contrast with what is being ‘spoken by the Lord’, for what is spoken by the Lord is His direct positive action unaffected by the activity of others, while what is referred to as being fulfilled in accordance with the Scriptures has in mind His suffering at the hands of men, something that is certainly within the will and purpose of God, but is in contrast to His glorious bringing forth of His Son. It has in mind man’s negative response which God will have to counteract. Matthew would certainly have seen the Scriptures as the voice of God, but his use here of them as being ‘fulfilled’ has in mind the voice of God (the Scriptures) as declaring what man is doing, rather than what He Himself is doing, even though they are bringing about His purposes because He is sovereign over it all. This last fact comes out well in 21.42 where man has acted, but God is then seen as reversing the purposes of men as spoken of in the Scriptures. So the Scriptures refer to what will come about as a result of the activity of man, although in fact being the will of God. All this brings out that he is not just parrot-like repeating a formula. He is all the time making subtle distinctions between them.

It is further noticeable that he cites Isaiah six times (five times by name in the central portion of the Gospel), Jeremiah twice by name, Hosea once but not by name, an unknown Psalmist twice, while necessarily not by name, Zechariah once but not by name and three times refers to ‘the Scriptures being fulfilled’ (or similar), each time on the lips of Jesus. There are not enough examples for us conclusively to put too much stress on the particular reason for each of the differences, but these differences certainly do warn us against trying to group a number of the prophecies together as though they were of a type to be collected together and seen as different from the others. They all in fact mainly differ from each other in presentation, even though having a certain specific pattern to them, and only Isaiah and Jeremiah are mentioned by name, suggesting that Matthew saw both as significant. And it is also clear that the differences in wording are not haphazard. Furthermore the ones he shares with Mark tend to follow the LXX while his own choice of quotations tend to be either his own translation from MT, or from Hebrew/Greek texts not known to us. We might also note that two have specifically in mind the Davidic king (1 & 11) and two have in mind the Servant of the Lord (7 & 8).

Thus our conclusion must be that in using these quotations Matthew is not just regurgitating a set pattern. He is rather by this making clear throughout that the life of Jesus has resulted in the completion of the Old Testament purposes and promises, looked at from different perspectives. It is noticeable that the narrative could indeed proceed without them. Their purpose therefore is to relate what he writes back to the Scriptures so as to draw attention to the fact that Jesus fills to the full all that the Old Testament teaches. This in itself demonstrates his high view of Jesus as the One Who sums up the Old Testament in Himself.

Our next step must therefore be to consider how he uses them.

We should note that in the case of the first two he clearly sees ‘the Lord’ as specifically concerned in them, and it is reasonable to suggest that he sees them as distinctive because these two describe His ‘bringing forth of a son’. He is especially emphasising the personal interest of YHWH in these cases. In the first case the son is named Immanuel (God is with us), and is specifically identified with Jesus the Saviour (1.21) and in the second case the son is Israel/Jesus who was called forth by the Lord from Egypt. This connection must be seen as of special importance because in the context of the early part of Matthew the idea of sonship has been emphasised as important. For in the first chapter he has laid specific emphasis on the fact that Jesus the Messiah, about Whom he is going to write, is the son of David and the son of Abraham (1.1), is the son of the royal line (1.6-13), and is also a son of those who were carried away into exile in Babylon and brought back again (1.11). He is seen as united with His history.

1). ‘Now all this is come about, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Behold a virgin will be with child and will bring forth a son, and they will call His name Immanuel” which is being interpreted, ‘God with us’.

We will first then consider the prophecy concerning Immanuel. The ‘prophecy’ (forth-telling) which is cited here is, “Behold a virgin will be with child and will bring forth a son, and they will call His name Immanuel” which is being interpreted, ‘God with us’. As we have seen this is especially emphasised by Matthew as having been spoken by ‘the Lord’ and it is taken from Isaiah 7.14. It need hardly be pointed out that huge discussions have resulted from a study of this verse. But to examine all those views is beyond the scope of what we are trying to do here and we must therefore limit ourselves to what we see as the main points that come out of it.

The first is that the verse in Matthew refers to a ‘virgin’ (parthenos) who will bring forth a son, ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit’ (verse 20). And we should note in this regard that verses 24-25 in Matthew certainly affirm that she had had no sexual intercourse with her husband until after the birth. So however sceptical some readers might be about his conclusion, there is no doubt that Matthew is indicating by this a ‘virgin birth’, and moreover is indicating by it a supernatural birth in which only one party has been involved. This last is important. It demonstrates that it bears no resemblance to other so-called ‘virgin births’ in extant literature which are often cited as parallels. In those cases a god in the form of a man had had intercourse with a human maiden. But that idea is excluded here. It has therefore to be considered as being in a totally different sphere. Here this unique birth is seen to be the result of the working of the Holy Spirit producing a child ‘miraculously’ without any hint of sexual activity whether human or divine. It is not modelled on a pagan myth.

More likely parallels are ‘and the Lord visited Sarah as He had said’ (Genesis 21.1); and ‘and it came about that Hannah conceived and bore a son’ (1 Samuel 1.20). But these are more parallel with the birth of John the Baptiser than of Jesus, for their intercourse is assumed to have taken place.

But how then can the birth of Jesus be seen as the ‘fulfilment’ or ‘filling full’ or ‘bringing to completion’ of the words taken from Isaiah, which are seen as specifically the words of YHWH?

In Isaiah the promise was of an unmarried young woman of marriageable age (‘alma in Hebrew, parthenos in LXX) who would bear a child which would reveal to Israel that God was with them, and would be a sign to Ahaz that God had rejected him and his house.

The Hebrew word used for young woman in Isaiah 7.14 (‘almah) is never, as far as is known, used of a non-virgin or married woman. It refers to a young woman of marriageable age, with growing sexual desires, who is not yet married, and thus is assumed to be a virgin. The use of ‘almah in Song of Solomon 6.8-9 especially confirms this. There it is contrasted with queens and concubines and clearly describes those who are in the same situation as the loved one also being described, unmarried and virginal, and in verse 9 is associated with ‘the daughters’ of their mothers, (they have not yet left their own households), the many compared with the one. It is a word containing the idea of sexual purity, without the taint that had come on the word bethulah. Bethulah was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality at Ugarit, and could be used to describe fertility goddesses, who were certainly not virgins. It did not strictly mean a pure virgin at this time, whatever it came to mean later. Compare Joel 1.8 where a bethulah mourning the husband of her youth is described.

We can therefore understand why here the LXX translators translated ‘almah by the word ‘virgin’ (parthenos), just as they did in Genesis 24.43. They recognised the emphasis that Isaiah was placing on this woman as being unmarried and pure.

It is true that the word ‘virgin’ (parthenos) does not always refer to what is today indicated by the term virgin, an intact virgin who has not had relations with a man, but there is always behind it the thought of underlying purity. The term could, for example, be applied to sacred prostitutes in Greek temples, who were by no means intact virgins. But these were seen as having their own kind of ‘purity’ by those who wrote of them, for they were seen as daughters of the temples and of the gods, not as common prostitutes. They were ‘holy’. On the other hand, they were certainly not technically virgins. Furthermore after Dinah had been raped in Genesis 34.2 she was still called a parthenos in verse 3 (LXX). She was seen as pure at heart even though she had been violated and was no longer an intact virgin. And in Isaiah 47 the ‘virgin daughter of Babylon’ could lose her children and be brought to widowhood (Isaiah 47.1, 9). In none of these cases then are parthenoi seen as intact virgins. On the other hand, the idea of purity might be seen as lying behind them all.

Nor did Hebrew at this time have a word for ‘intact virgin’. Virginity was assumed for all unmarried young women, unless there was reason to think otherwise, and then it was a shame to speak of it. The often cited ‘bethulah’ did not indicate that at that time. Nor did it necessarily indicate purity. As we have seen above it was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality at Ugarit, and could be used to describe fertility goddesses, who were certainly not virgins, or even pure. They were far more lascivious and lustful than human beings. And in Joel 1.8 a bethulah mourning the husband of her youth is described. There are no grounds for thinking that she was a virgin. Indeed if she had had a husband for even one night she would not have been. Furthermore the word bethulah sometimes has to be accompanied by the words, ‘neither had any man known her’ (Genesis 24.16). That would have been unnecessary if bethulah had specifically indicated a virgin. So a bethulah is a young woman whether married or not, with no indication of her virginal state. An ‘alma is an unmarried young woman of marriageable age, who if pure (which she would be assumed to be) could in Israel be called a parthenos.

The next thing we note is that this unmarried and pure woman who is to bring forth a child is to be a sign to Ahaz of the rejection of him and his house (demonstrated by the coming of Assyria on them), and an indication that he will shortly see that God can do what He says and empty the lands of both his enemies.

Who then was this son who would act as a sign in this way? A number of suggestions have been made of which we will select the three most prominent.

  • 1) It was a child to be born of the royal house, or of Isaiah’s wife, whose very birth would act as a sign.
  • 2) It was any child born at the time, the emphasis being on the fact that before it was weaned what God had said would happen.
  • 3) It was the child described in 9.6-7, the coming One Who would be greater than David, Who would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and would rule over the whole world.

In order to decide which one was meant we must consider the context. In context God had offered to keep Ahaz safe under his protection, and in order to give him assurance had offered to give him a sign of miraculous proportions (an example of which we find later on when the sun goes back ten degrees under Hezekiah - Isaiah 38.5-8). God says, ‘Ask a sign of YHWH, whether it be as high as Heaven or as deep as Sheol’ (7.11), an offer which Ahaz suavely rejects. And this sign once given would have been the sign that Ahaz would be ‘established’. It is thus related not only to the deliverance from the present problem, but also to the guaranteeing of the future establishment of the house of David through the line of Ahaz, protecting him from all comers.

And it is on his refusal that God says that He will nevertheless give him a sign, but that this time it will be a sign of the king of Assyria coming on him, (thus he will not be established), and the sign is that a child will be born of an ‘almah. And the first thing that must be said about this is that it suggests that God sees the sign that He is to bring as one of miraculous proportions, ‘as high as Heaven or as deep as Sheol’, in accordance with what He has previously described. For only such a sign could demonstrate the certainty that the future of the house of Ahaz was no longer ensured. And if that be so then only a virgin birth would fit the bill.

1) The suggestion that it refers to a child to be born of the royal house, or of Isaiah’s wife, whose very birth would act as a sign.

The birth of a son to the royal house in the normal course of events (Hezekiah had already been born) or to the prophetess could hardly have been such a sign as the Lord has described above. Indeed the prophetess bears two sons, both of whom by their names will be signs to Judah/Israel, as would their father (8.18), but note that while the prophetess was mentioned earlier in respect of one of the sons (8.3), she is not mentioned in verse 18 in connection with the signs and portents. There is therefore no emphasis on the prophetess as bearing both sons who were ‘signs and portents in Israel’ (along with their father) even though she did so. The emphasis there is on the father.

However, the argument is often that that is the point. The emphasis is in fact on her bearing one of the sons, Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8.3), who will be a sign of the devastation of the two kings, something which in 7.16 was to be gathered from the sign of the ‘almah with child. But here we should note that in 8.3 that is not in fact specifically described as a sign. It is rather seen as a prophetic acting out of what was to be, which is not quite the same thing. Of course we may accept that it was an indication of what was to be, and in that sense a sign. But it was equally certainly not the kind of sign that the Lord had originally spoken of, a sign of startling proportions. Nor is it said to relate to the now greater matters that were involved, that Ahaz’s house would no longer be established, and that the king of Assyria was about to descend on him and his land because he had forfeited the Lord’s protection.

We may therefore justifiably see the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz as a part sign. The child’s birth, through the name given to him, was indeed a sign that the kings would be destroyed from their lands within a short while, but that was all that he is described as being. But he was not born of an ‘almah, and he is not said to be a sign of the larger matter in hand, the rejection of the house of Ahaz as manifested by the coming of Assyria and devastation of Judah, and the coming of a king who will achieve what Ahaz has failed to achieve (9.7), that is, the fulfilment of the promises to the house of David. (A fact that will later be manifested by the rejection of his son Hezekiah and his seed - Isaiah 39.5-7). The same problems lie with any attempt to relate the birth of the child to the birth of any child in the house of Ahaz. The birth of such a child would hardly rank as an unusual sign, and would be even less significant than that born to the prophetess.

2) The suggestion that it refers to any child born at the time the emphasis being on the fact that before it was weaned what God had said would happen.

This suffers even more disadvantages than the first, for it does not even have the partial support in context that the first interpretation has when related to the prophetess. It is fine as an evidence of how short a time it will be before both of Ahaz’s opponents are devastated, but it has nothing to say about the non-establishment of the house of Ahaz or of the coming of the king of Assyria, nor could it possibly be seen as in any way parallel with the kind of sign that the Lord has spoken about. For the truth is that if the Lord made His great declaration about ‘a sign almost as beyond the conception of man as it could possibly be’, and then gave one which was merely a birth in the usual run of things, it would appear to all that all that He had offered was a damp squib.

And this is especially so because in the past He had specialised in special births in that a number of past ‘greats’ had been born miraculously (even though not from an ‘almah). Thus Isaac was born ‘miraculously’ (Genesis 18.10-11, 14; 21.2 - ‘conceived and bore a son’), Samson was born ‘miraculously’ (Judges 13.3 - ‘will conceive and bear a son’), Samuel was born ‘miraculously’ (1 Samuel 1.5, 20 - ‘conceived and bore a son’). And all these births would be engraved on Israelite hearts. But there is no suggestion that they were born of ‘almah’s, nor was the child of the prophetess born ‘miraculously’. Indeed she had already previously had another son (it is, however, also said of her that she ‘conceived and bore a son’). It will be noted that the only exact parallel to ‘will conceive and bear a son’ in the whole of the Old Testament is Judges 13.3, 5, 7.

3) The suggestion that it refers to the child described in 9.6-7, the coming One Who would be greater than David, Who would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and would rule over the whole world, indicating that He would be miraculously born of an ‘almah (parthenos, virgin).

There can be no question that this suggestion has the most going for it from an Israelite’s point of view and from the point of view of the context. It would tie in with the history of conceiving and bearing a ‘miraculous child’ as being signs to Israel. It would tie in with the Lord’s promise that He would give a remarkable miraculous sign. It would tie in with the following description of the ‘birth of a child’ in 9.6. It would give full weight to the use of ‘almah. It would explain why it demonstrated that ‘God is with us’. And in the context of Matthew it would explain why He would be able to save His people from their sins.

And as no one knew when the child would be born the indication that both kings would be devastated before the child could grow to boyhood was a sufficient indicator of time, especially when associated with the birth of the son to the prophetess. Indeed the only question that it might raise is, how could such a birth in the future possibly be a sign to Ahaz?

The answer to this question lies in the nature of the sign. It should be noted that this was no longer to be a sign to Ahaz that he would be established (7.9). But what it certainly was, was a sign of the fact that he would not be established. He lived at a time when all hopes were on the coming of the future triumphant son of David, who would be of the line of David, and who would rule the world. And Ahaz would pride himself in the fact that it would be of his seed. Thus to inform Ahaz that this coming David would now in fact be born of a virgin, and not be of his seed, was indeed a sign that he would not be established. The future throne would go to one not born of Ahaz’s seed. The sign was thus now not when the child was to be born, but what his birth would signify. Furthermore we have a good example in the past of precisely such an idea of a sign that was given as a sign to its recipient, with the actual working out of the sign being a future event. For an example of this see Exodus 3.12 where the sign that Moses had been sent would be the fact that the people to whom he went would one day ‘serve God on this mountain’. The sign was a promise of a better future that they could hold on to, a future which would be the result of their response of faith, just as this sign in Isaiah 7.14 was a similar promise of a better future in which they were called on to believe, in contrast to Ahaz (Isaiah 7.9).

Strictly speaking in fact Ahaz did not want or merit a sign. He had refused it. Thus the point here is that he received a spoken sign that he did not want which demonstrated the very opposite of what the original promised sign would have indicated, his rejection by God. Israel would indeed receive its promised king Whose coming would prove that God was with them, but He would not be born of the seed of Ahaz, He would rather be born of a virgin. We should also note that while this might cause problems to our scientific age, it would have caused no problems to Israelites, nor indeed to Matthew. They would not be looking for some interpretation that avoided the ‘miraculous’.

This being so it is quite reasonable to see that to Matthew Isaiah was promising that the great Son of David would be born of a virgin, and that that therefore directly related to Jesus, Who as that Son of David would be born of a virgin. He thus saw His birth from a virgin as filling in full the prophecy which had partly been fulfilled by Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

2). ‘And He was there (in Egypt) until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (2.15).

In considering this quotation one or two factors need to be born in mind. And the first is as to what is meant by ‘prophecy’. The prophets are not to be seen as a kind of glorified fortune-teller. That is not how they saw themselves at all. Rather they are to be seen as men who spoke from God, and who spoke in God’s name, and who in that speaking sought to cover the whole range of history. They were forth-tellers rather than fore-tellers. Thus the greatest of the prophets ‘prophesied’ about the past, they ‘prophesied’ about the present and they ‘prophesied’ about the future. And they sought to bring it all together as one, as descriptive of the purposes of God. In other words they were God’s mouthpiece as regards the whole of the past, the present and the future. And thus all their writings were to be seen as ‘prophecy’, the forth-telling of the mighty ways and acts of God.

That means that they were not all to be seen as simply foretelling future events. Far from it. Rather they were to be seen as relating the future to the past and the present. Clearly the future was important to them, but it was important, not as something to be forecast so as to show how clever they were, but as something that was in the hands of God, and as something in which God was going to act in fulfilling the promises of the past, precisely because of that past, taking into account the present. And their main aim in speaking was in order to affect that present. So even in the case of their looking into the future it is better to think of them as declaring what God was going to do in the future in fulfilment of the promises and warnings of the past, rather than as simply an attempt to discern the future. That is not to doubt that sometimes they did specifically act to discern the future, and did even lay claim at times to be heard because what they said came about (for they were confident that God was speaking through them), but it was not to be seen as the central purpose of prophecy. (It is the modern not the ancient view of prophecy that prophecy is merely about foretelling).

A further thing that we need to keep in mind when considering the application of Old Testament Scriptures to the days of Jesus was the Jewish sense of being a part of their past. They did not see the past as something that was of little concern to them apart from as a matter of historical interest. They felt themselves as bound up in that past. Thus each year when they met to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, they felt that they were at one with those people in Egypt who had first celebrated the Passover. As they ate ‘the bread of affliction’ they saw themselves as sharing in their experience. And they looked ahead for a similar great deliverance. They believed that the past would be repeated in their own futures. And it was not only so with the Passover. In the whole of their worship there was the same sense of unity with the past, for they saw themselves as connected with Moses and the past in all that they did. Thus prophecies concerning Israel could very much be seen as equally applying in their day. They felt that the promises of Moses and the prophets had been made to them. For they considered themselves to be the same as the Israel of the past, the same as those to whom the promises and warning were originally given, they were YHWH’s firstborn son. So when Matthew spoke of ‘fulfilment’, of prophecy being ‘filled to the full’, it would be an idea close to their hearts

The next thing that must be recognised as we consider these ‘prophecies’ is that Matthew saw Jesus as very much a continuation of the promises and history of the Old Testament. Indeed he saw Him as the One Who summed them up. Jesus is the son of Abraham (1.1). He is the son of David (1.1). He is, in His family, One Who has, as it were, come out of Exile (1.12, 17). He is One Who has left behind the ties of Egypt (2.15) and is therefore the hope of all who are in exile. His coming spurs again the weeping of Rachel as she awaits the deliverance of her children (2.17). He is One Who bears the name of being despised and rejected, ‘a Nazarene’ (2.23). Like Israel of old He goes into the wilderness to be tested, although in His case He emerges from it as triumphant (4.1-11). He is the One Who confirms and establishes the Law, bringing out its deeper meaning (5-7). He is the Servant of the Lord of Isaiah (12.17-21) Who has been described as ‘Israel’ by God (Isaiah 49.3). Thus in His person He is to be seen as representing Israel in every way, and in such a way that God would be able to say of Him, just as He did of the Servant in Isaiah 49.3, ‘You are My Servant Israel, in Whom I will be glorified’. This idea that Jesus represents Israel is elsewhere most obviously emphasised by John in John 15.1-6 where Jesus declares Himself to be ‘the true Vine’ in contrast with the old Israel, the degenerate vine, and in the other synoptic Gospels by, for example, the cursing of the fig tree. It is also confirmed by the fact that the New Testament writers saw the new people of God as being the continuation of the true Israel of the Old Testament, what are often called the Remnant, as the new ‘congregation’ set up on the rock of Christ and His Apostles and what they believed about Him (Matthew 16.16-19) or to put it in modern parlance, that the true church as made up of true believers was the true Israel (so Romans 11.16-28; Galatians 3.27-29; 4.26-31; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.5-9; etc.).

And this therefore is partly why Matthew can see Him as ‘fulfilling’ certain prophecies. But in saying this we must not stop there. We must also note again what the content of the word ‘fulfilled’ has for Matthew, as for Judaism. The word means ‘to fulfil’, ‘to complete’, and often ‘to complete something already begun’. Thus Matthew is not necessarily saying that the prophecies that He ‘fulfils’ referred solely to Jesus, so that first we have the foretelling out of the blue, and then He fulfils that foretelling. The argument is often rather that in the end things which are stated by the prophets, which have never really come to their final completion, do find their completion in Him (see above).

Taking these ideas into account we will now consider these words in Matthew 2.15. There we read, ‘This was to fulfil (or ‘bring to completion’) what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son”.’ Here Matthew is undoubtedly referring to the fact that Jesus had been taken to Egypt, and would therefore return from there as the representative of Israel in accordance with God’s calling and purpose. But while at first it might seem as though he has done so, he did not do it by simply selecting a convenient prophecy and giving it a new meaning on the basis of the ideas described above. He did it as something which was to be seen as genuinely ‘completing’ the original prophecy.

Many fail to see this. They simply say that here Matthew (or whoever previously brought this citation to notice in connection with the coming of Jesus) has merely taken the words of Hosea 11.1 out of context, and has given them a meaning which has little to do with what Hosea prophesied, and that he (or they) have done this in order to give the impression (to ignoramuses?) of ‘fulfilled prophecy’. They then speak of a list of such ‘prophecies’ as occurring in Matthew, which are all treated in the same way, that is simply as proof texts wrenched out of context, and they therefore look on Matthew also as naive. But the question that must be asked is, ‘is that really what Matthew was doing? Is that really what he saw himself as signifying?’

Having this in mind let us first consider the words of Hosea 11.1, and see them in context so as to understand their significance to Hosea. Hosea 11.1 reads, ‘when Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son’. Now it cannot be doubted that this was in a sense a clear ‘prophecy’ about the past. That is, that initially it was looking back to the original calling of Israel out of Egypt. Hosea is here declaring that God had set His love on Israel, had seen them as His son and had ‘called them out of Egypt’ (see Exodus 4.22-23), and this with the purpose of delivering them from Egypt and all that it stood for. And not only was this so, but we should also note that the events that appear to demonstrate this are themselves recorded in Israel’s history, as Hosea was well aware. At first sight then it seems clear that this prophecy cannot strictly be applied to Jesus because it had already been fulfilled.

But before we come to too hasty a decision on that question there is something else that we ought to do. We ought to ask ourselves why Hosea said this? For when we do we will see that he makes it clear that it was not just his intention to speak about something that happened in the past. He had a specific reason for saying it, a reason that applied to the future. And the reason for his declaration is in fact then made crystal clear. For these words are spoken in a context in which we discover that in Hosea’s eyes that ‘calling’ seemed to have failed. To him the problem was that although bodily the people of Israel had moved from Egypt, in their minds they had brought Egypt with them. Mentally and spiritually they were still in Egypt. Thus they had not truly responded to God’s call. God’s call had not been effective. It had not been fulfilled. Yes, they had left Egypt. But the problem was that they had brought Egypt with them. They were still indulging in the same old idolatries and spurning God’s love in the same old way. And thus, because he knew that God could not in the end fail in His calling, he recognised that that calling had not been fulfilled, and that as yet that calling had not been effective. He saw that that calling was in fact still a continuous process, which was in process of fulfilment. It was something that went on and on, and would go on and on, until it was finally achieved. God had called His people out of Egypt, and out of Egypt therefore they would surely have to come, even though as yet they had not done so.

This is made clear in the verses which follow, for if we follow texts on which the Septuagint was probably based, he then says, ‘The more I called them the more they went from Me’ (11.2 RSV, which takes into account LXX. LXX has here the 1st person singular). There the idea is quite clearly that up to this point the calling of God had been ineffective because their hearts had remained in Egypt. They had brought Egypt with them. He continued to call them, but the more He did so the more they rejected Him. They had not really been delivered from Egypt at all, because they still continued with the same old idolatry as they always had, and looked to other gods, spurning the love of the Lord (11.2-4). They were still refusing to listen to His calling. It was a calling that had as yet not been made effective. Thus while He had called them out of Egypt, with the intention that they leave Egypt behind, they had not truly come. In their hearts ‘His son’ was still in Egypt.

Alternately if we go by the MT it says, ‘as they called them, so they went from them’. In this case there are two possibilities.

One is that ‘they’ here must refer to Moses, Aaron and Joshua and ultimately the later prophets. In that case it is saying that those who were appointed by God had continually called on them to follow God’s call, but that the people had turned away from them. They had continually refused in their hearts to obey ‘the call of God out of Egypt’. Here then this ‘they’ must seen as referring to the prophets as the voice of God, commencing with Moses.

  • Alternately it may be seen as referring to God Himself in an intensive plural. This much might be seen as being made clear from the whole context which is largely in the first person singular. In this case it is saying the same as LXX.

    So Matthew here saw Hosea as declaring that God’s call from Egypt was a continuing process that had not yet been completed. God had called but as yet His people had not truly responded. And then he saw Hosea as going on to describe the continuation of that call as outlined in the following verses. For the idea all the way through Hosea 11 is that while Israel may have left Egypt physically, they had not done so spiritually. In their hearts they were still in Egypt, as was evidenced by their idolatry and lack of love for the Lord. And thus the call of God had not been inwardly effective. Their hearts still needed to be ‘called out of Egypt’. But because the call was the call of God it was still active, and would remain active until it came about.

    Thus Hosea sees that there is only one solution to this problem. In order to achieve His purpose God would have to return His people to Egypt so that He might be able to call them out again, so that this time, hopefully, His previous call might be made effective, with the result that they would be wholly delivered from Egypt. Thus, (following RSV, again translated with LXX in mind), he says in verse 5, ‘they will return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria will be their king, because they refused to return to Me’. In other words, God is saying, the initial result of their calling out of Egypt will have to be temporarily reversed by their being returned to Egypt (and to Assyria) to await another deliverance. And that theologically there must be another deliverance comes out in the fact that, although the calling of God may be delayed, it cannot be cancelled. ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance’ (Romans 11.29). For the promises to Abraham must be fulfilled.

    Alternatively, if we read in the text the negative as in MT, we must translate as, ‘Shall they not return to Egypt, and Assyria be their king, because they would not return to Me?’. (This is an equally possible translation of MT). That this translation is required is evidenced in verse 11 which again shows them as later being in both Egypt and Assyria. So whichever way the text is taken, whether as in LXX or as in MT, the same thing is in mind. The idea basically is that their particular calling has been reversed because of their disobedience, so that they are being returned to Egypt, and to its equivalent Assyria, but that that calling will then need to be ‘fulfilled’ or brought to completion at a later time. God had indeed called His son out of Egypt, but because as yet ‘he’ had not fully and completely come out, God will repeat His call, or ‘make it full’. For as God’s original call must finally be effective because of Who He is, there will have to be a further re-calling out so that His purposes are really fulfilled.

    That this is so comes out in that in verse 11 Hosea once more sees Israel as again coming out of Egypt. ‘They will come trembling like birds from Egypt and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes (or ‘make them dwell in their houses’)’. The idea here is that God, having first removed them from their homes and having taken them back to Egypt and Assyria because their hearts had proved to be still there, would once again ‘bring them out of Egypt’, and this time would bring ‘home’ not only their bodies but their hearts, so that they would worship and serve Him only. His call out of Egypt would therefore at last be fully effective, it would be carried out to the full. It would be ‘fulfilled’.

    So to Hosea God’s original call was to be seen as still in process of completion, and ‘out of Israel have I called My son’ was to be seen as still having to be fulfilled. But even then, as always, we must assume that its completion will depend on their final obedient response to Him. For if the calling is really God’s it must finally be effective. Until that was so the call of God could not be said to have been ‘fulfilled’. And the problem was, as Matthew saw clearly, that that kind of obedience had never really happened. Even in his own time he recognised that their hearts were still ‘in Egypt’, and that in fact over a million Jews literally were still there, largely in Alexandria..

    So when Matthew cites this verse in respect of Jesus coming out of Egypt, having first represented Jesus as the expected seed of Abraham, and as thus the representative of Israel; as David’s son, the Messiah who was to be Israel’s representative before God (for the king always represented his people); and as the One who had in His ancestors returned from Exile, it is with these factors in mind. Matthew is saying, ‘as yet, while God called His son out of Egypt, this calling of Israel out of Egypt has not yet been fully consummated’ just as Hosea also had declared. God did call with a call which must eventually be effective because it was His, but the problem was that in their hearts Israel had up to this point not come. So at the time of the birth of Jesus Israel was therefore to be seen as still ‘in Egypt’ in their hearts. And this could not have been more emphasised than by the fact that in the time of Jesus there were over a million Jews in Egypt just as Hosea had said.

    ‘And thus,’ says Matthew, ‘God has now acted in Jesus in such a way as to commence the final deliverance from Egypt.’ He has now brought out of Egypt the One Who represents in Himself the seed of Abraham, the son of David, the children of the Exile, He Who is the new Israel, the Messiah, the Servant, the One Who embodies in Himself the whole of Israel, so as to bring back Israel to Him and also in order to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49.3, 6). His heart will not be left in Egypt. He will come out totally, in body, soul and spirit. And nor will the hearts of those who follow Him remain in Egypt.

    Through Jesus therefore this ‘prophecy’, says Matthew, which had never been fully completed, will come to its final consummation, so that the true Israel might finally be delivered from ‘Egypt’. By this means the prophecy is being ‘brought to completion’, it is ‘being filled full’. His return from exile, like his forebears before Him, is the beginning of a new coming out of Egypt. In Jesus God’s purposes for Israel will now come into fulfilment. Thus far from Matthew’s quotation being naive, it is full of deep significance, and that by taking it in its true context. (We may not like his interpretation, but we have no right to despise it, for it is based firmly on what Hosea was saying, and would certainly have spoken quite clearly to his Jewish readers. This is a further indication of how much Matthew, in his Gospel, has in mind the Jews, both Christian and otherwise).

    That Jesus did in fact see Himself as Israel in this way comes out in His description of Himself as the Son of Man (which in Daniel 7 represented both Israel and their king) and especially in John 15.1-6, where He depicts Himself as the true Vine. It is also found in His recognition that He Himself would need to found a new nation (‘My congregation’). This last comes out clearly later on in Matthew, for there He speaks of founding ‘My congregation’ (the new congregation of Israel - 16.18; 18.17-18) on the rock of His Messiahship. Furthermore He also speaks of the ‘bringing forth of a new nation’ in 21.43, which will replace the old. So the thought in Matthew’s words in 2.15 is to be seen as far more complicated than just a simplistic ‘fulfilling’ of some convenient words which have been misapplied. It is not an attempt to ‘prove’ anything by a rather conveniently worded prophecy. Rather it is indicating that Jesus is an essential part of Israel’s ongoing history and promised deliverance, and is evidence of the fulfilling of that first call of God to His people. God had called them out of Egypt, but the calling had not succeeded, and now therefore He will finally make that call effective so that they will never yearn to return there again, but will at last respond to God’s cords of love (Hosea 11.4) through Jesus Christ.

    Rather therefore than being a naive claim to be a successful piece of fortune-telling, it is a declaration that God’s calling is always finally effective, even though its fulfilment might take over a thousand years.

    3). ‘Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not” (2.17-18).

    We must also apply similar methods of interpretation to Matthew 2.17-18. Here we read, ‘Then was fulfilled (or ‘filled to the full’) that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted for they are not.” ’ It is then often asked, ‘what has Ramah to do with Bethlehem-judah?’ Part of the answer lies in the fact that Ramah was on the way between Bethel and Bethlehem, and that Rachel’s death was also in fact connected with Bethlehem (Genesis 35.16-19). But that is not the full answer. For again we must consider its context, this time in Jeremiah 31.15.

    In Jeremiah’s prophecy these words in reality stand very much on their own, but the principle behind them is nevertheless clear and that is that Israel are seen as weeping, and this in terms of their deceased ancestress Rachel, because many of their people are in exile, because ‘they are not’. As with the quotation from Hosea he has in mind those who are far from the land and ‘in exile’. This Ramah was presumably the Ramah near Gibeon (Joshua 18.25) some miles north of Jerusalem, in Benjamite territory. In contrast Bethlehem-judah was six miles south of Jerusalem in the territory of Judah. But Jeremiah’s words are almost certainly based on the fact that Rachel was thought to be buried near Ramah.

    (In 1 Samuel 10.2 it is said to have been at Selsah, on the border of Benjamin, which is not definitely identified, but must have been near Ramah, while Genesis 35.16, 19 says that it was ‘on the way to Ephrath’, the old name for Bethlehem, a road that passed through what would later be Benjamite territory. It was thus on the approach to Bethlehem (see also Ruth 4.11). We must remember that in ancient days geography was not an exact science and places would therefore be identified by the nearest well known name).

    But the vivid picture is not of the children of Ramah. It is of Rachel in her tomb at Ramah weeping because all her children Israel were suffering (we must remember that she was mother of Joseph and Benjamin, and grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh, but she is probably to be seen as weeping for all Israel and Judah). And her weeping was because they were no longer before her eyes. Many were in Exile. The verse is then followed by the promise that there is hope for their latter end (Jeremiah 31.17), hope following the Messianic feast (Jeremiah 31.13-14) when presumably Rachel will be able to cease weeping. Thus Rachel’s weeping is seen by Jeremiah as something that would carry on until the end times when through God’s activity it would cease. It was therefore very appropriate for what Matthew saw as the beginning of ‘the last days’, the times of the Messiah. For the Messiah too would remove the necessity for this kind of weeping. And to Matthew this sad needless destruction of twenty or so male children was therefore to be seen as the last throes of the old dispensation as Rachel continued to weep for her children.

    Rachel’s death was a tragic one, although not in an uncommon way, for she died in childbirth (Genesis 35.16-19) as did so many women in those days. Her tears would thus be seen as very apt for a situation where children were involved. And the fact that she was depicted as weeping for children who were lost to her, and would continue to do so until they were brought home, made it very applicable to this case. Thus Matthew is simply pointing out that Rachel (as representative of mother Israel) wept whenever children who were born in Israel ‘were not’. And that was why this slaughter of Israel’s children was to be seen as one of ‘her’ causes of weeping, and a very significant one because it heralded the coming of the Messiah. He is taking the verse as signifying the perpetual grief of the symbolic Rachel for Israel’s suffering, in whatever form that suffering takes, right up to the end times, and especially in such cases as this. The present generation are thus to be comforted by the thought of the past, and to see their suffering as part of the completion of the process whereby finally the good times would come through the appearance of the Messiah.

    Each time Israel suffered, a partial fulfilment of these words was to be seen. At such times Rachel was to be seen as weeping in Ramah, especially when the problems related to children. And now when the coming of the Messiah seemed to be bringing hope to the world, it was not to be seen as surprising that this weeping was intensified as a result of the sufferings that accompanied His birth. This weeping then represented and symbolised the birth pangs of the Messianic age which had been so clearly portended (Isaiah 13.8; 26.17; Jeremiah 4.31; 6.24; Micah 4.9-10. See also 2 Esdras 16.38-39). And ‘Rachel’ therefore felt them most intensely. Who better to have in mind in view of how she died? Here at last Jeremiah’s words were being ‘filled to the full’

    So Matthew clearly saw that the weeping for these children in Bethlehem was all part of the weeping of ‘Rachel’, a weeping that was expected in the end to result in the coming of the Messianic Banquet (Jeremiah 31.13-14). And he knew that it would speak to the hearts of those who were still weeping, awaiting His coming. He may well also have wanted the actual mothers of these slain sons to know that ‘Rachel’, as one who understood such situations, was weeping for them, something which would help to comfort all who were finding their suffering difficult to understand. It would make them aware that God was not insensitive to their cries, but knew what was happening (compare Luke 18.7). Matthew may even himself have known people who were still grieving over their lost sons in Bethlehem. But even more was he aware of unbelieving Israel’s constant weeping as they looked ahead in hope of deliverance. Thus again, far from being a naive application of words that were irrelevant, this is to be seen as something pregnant with meaning concerning the coming of Jesus, and as having a direct message at that time for his Jewish readers. The weeping of Israel was soon coming to an end. For Israel would be ‘called out of Egypt’, and would no longer need to see themselves as in Exile and away from where God could be worshipped (John 4.20-23), because of the activity of Jesus.

    4). ‘And He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, that He should be called a Nazarene’ (2.23).

    The first thing to be noted here is that this is not a direct citation, and that it is referred to ‘the prophets’ as a whole. It is thus seen as a general principle spoken of by the prophets which is to be ‘filled to the full’. Here the emphasis is on the significance of Jesus coming to live in Nazareth. The question is therefore in what way the prophets can have suggested that Jesus would be ‘called a Nazarene’.

    In fact the answer to that question would have been more obvious to the Jews of Matthew’s day than it is to us. Nazareth was in Galilee, and Galilee was despised by the people of Judah as ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’. While Jewish Galileans were accepted as being full Jews (although many of their fathers had been forced to become so by compulsory circumcision) they were seen as a little unorthodox, and even their Rabbis were not seen as quite as orthodox as they should be. Thus they were ‘looked down on’ by their more orthodox brethren in Judea and Jerusalem (see for example John 7.41, 52). But even more looked down on were the residents of Nazareth in Galilee. Nazareth was a smallish out of the way town in the hills, away from the main thoroughfares which it overlooked from a height, which had somehow gained a reputation for being a backward nonentity. Thus if Galilee was despised, Nazareth was even more despised, for it was despised even by those who lived in Galilee. It was the lowest of the low. Thus Nathaniel could say, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1.46). And at the time that Matthew was written (whenever it was) the Jews looked down on Christians and called them ‘the sect of the Nazarenes’, which was intended to be upsetting and insulting (Acts 24.5).

    So Matthew’s point here is that quite deliberately Joseph and Mary went back to live in that unpretentious town in the hills where Mary at least had once had her home, thus fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies which spoke of the Coming One as being the lowliest of men (see especially Psalm 22.6; Isaiah 53.1-5; Zechariah 9.12; 11.7-14). Here therefore ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’ indicates that He would be seen as the lowest of the low, as the Scriptures had declared would be the case.

    Matthew has previously not mentioned any connection with Nazareth, and that has been deliberate. For he had been concerned to emphasise the Davidic connection of Jesus, and His royal birth and treatment by the Magi, but now he also seeks to draw attention to His lowliness as He ‘returns from Exile’, thus filling in both aspects of Zechariah 9.12. The One Who was the Son of David, and honoured by the Magi, had like Israel of old fled to Egypt, and had now descended in status to lowly Nazareth.

    Other have connected the words with Isaiah 11.1, where the ‘branch’ is a ‘netser’. Thus ‘He will be called a netser’. But the connection of this with Nazareth is tenuous, and if Matthew had intended that he would surely have drawn attention to the fact, for it is not obvious in the Greek. The same is true of interpretations that seek to connect the idea with Nazirites. All also founder on the fact that Matthew referred it to ‘the prophets’ not ‘the prophet’. Thus the probability is that we are to see Matthew as reading into the words ‘He will be called a Nazarene’ all the contempt that was intrinsic in the idea of being an inhabitant of Nazareth.

    The Isaianic Prophecies.

    It is possibly significant that, excluding 13.35 (the reading in Aleph,Theta,f13 citing Isaiah as speaking in 13.35 is explainable as being copied from 8.17, and by it being in this sequence. Some copyists tended to try to remove anonymity. The reading must therefore be rejected), the next six citations are all stated openly to be the words of Isaiah the Prophet. (1.23 was also a citation from Isaiah, but not by name). Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is now, from the commencement of John’s ministry, filling to the full what had been declared by Isaiah. In other words he is especially seeking in these chapters to lay the emphasis on Jesus’ fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaiah, as both the coming Son and the coming Servant. These prophecies are:

    • 5) ‘For this is he who was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make you ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (3.3).
    • 6) ‘And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that sat in darkness saw a great light, and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, to them did light spring up” (4.14-16).
    • 7) ‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our diseases” (8.17).
    • 8) ‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul is well pleased, I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will declare judgment to the Gentiles. He will not strive, nor cry aloud, nor will any one hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed will He not break, and smoking flax will He not quench, until He sends forth judgment unto victory. And in His name will the Gentiles hope” (12.17-21).
    • 9) ‘And to them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, “By hearing you will hear, and will in no wise understand, and seeing you will see, and will in no wise perceive. For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them’ (13.14-17).
    • 10) ‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet (Psalm 78.2), saying, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things which have been hidden from the foundation of the world” (13.35).
    • 11) ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you saying, “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (15.7-9).

    It will be noted that the first two suggest glorious royalty (Matthew 1.1-2.12), the second two emphasise the lowly Servant (Matthew 2.13-23), and the last three (including 13.35) emphasise the fact that Jesus has come to reveal His truth to those who will hear, and refer to the dullness of the hearing of Israel. The message is that the King and Servant as promised by Isaiah has come in order to bring to completion the promises of the Old Testament but that, apart from the favoured few, the people have failed to hear Him.

    The Final Prophecies.

    The last four prophecies concentrate on the final days of Jesus. He has come as the King, but also as One Who is meek and lowly; He will not call on divine powers in order to avoid His coming humiliation, for they are declared to be necessary by the Scriptures (that is, to be in the will of God); He is being delivered into the hands of men in accordance with the Scriptures (again in accordance with the will of God); and His humiliation reaches its climax in that His blood money is only sufficient to purchase a potter’s field to bury Gentiles in (the mention of Jeremiah as the source indicates that this purchase of the potter’s field is the emphasis of that citation).

    • 12) ‘Now this is come about that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell you the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King comes to you, meek, and riding on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass” (21.4-5).
    • 13) ‘Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures, The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This was the Lord’s doing and it was marvellous in our eyes” (21.42).
    • 14) “How then should the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?” (26.54).
    • 15) ‘In that hour said Jesus to the multitudes, “Are you come out as against a robber with swords and staves to seize me? I sat daily in the temple teaching, and you took me not. But all this is come about, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him, and fled’ (26.55-56).
    • 16) ‘Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me” (27.9-10).

    Note the order in the quotations, first the King rides in lowly sovereignty into Jerusalem, then His triumph is assured in spite of the activities of men in rejecting Him, then He refuses to call on God to defend Him, even though He could have done so, in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, (in other words so that God’s will might be done through the activities of men), then He is arrested at the instigation of ‘the crowds’ (again in accordance with the will of God as revealed through the Scriptures for the same purpose), and finally His blood money, the blood money of the King of the Jews, is used to purchase a field to bury Gentiles in. And all this so that the Scriptures might be brought to completion through His humiliation and death as described in them, prior to His being made the head of the corner.

    The Potter’s Field.

    The final quotation produces what has been seen by some as a problem for at first sight it appears to be citing Zechariah, when it is said by Matthew to be citing Jeremiah. But such a problem only arises because they fail to recognise the brief citations from Jeremiah in the last part of the ‘quotation’ (verse 10). Matthew clearly considers these important enough to draw attention to them by referring to Jeremiah.

    Certainly it is true that the first part of what is said is a loose citation from parts of Zechariah 11.12-13, but the main point of the citation is not to do with that, (that is simply indicating the value put on a prophet by the Temple authorities), but is on what was done with the price, which was to purchase a field connected with a potter, and this last idea has in mind a combination of Jeremiah 19.1 and 32.12-14, as Matthew’s attribution of the prophecy to Jeremiah confirms. He was not in error when he cited Jeremiah. (He only ever mentions in these contexts Isaiah and Jeremiah). He was rather drawing attention to where he wanted the emphasis to be placed, and the connection of the citations with the prophet who first forecast the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. This very fact tends to confirm that he is not using these quotations as a glib ‘O look, the prophecy has been fulfilled’, but as an indication that what occurs in the Old Testament is filled to the full in the New.

    Perhaps here, in order to see this, we should first list what Matthew tells us about the incident with Judas. He tells us that:

    • 1). The chief priests and the elders took council against Jesus (27.1), (thereby bringing themselves under God’s judgment).
    • 2). Judas brought back the thirty pieces of silver, which was the value set on Jesus as a prophet (see 26.15), and then cast down the pieces of silver into the Sanctuary (27.3, 5), an act which probably in his view cast some of his guilt back on the chief priests and elders.
    • 3). The chief priest took the pieces of silver which were the price of blood and bought with them something which belonged to a potter, namely in this case a field, which was subsequently seen as defiled (27.6-7).
    • 4). The field was renamed the field of blood.

    With his wide knowledge of the Old Testament Matthew immediately saw here connections with three Old Testament prophecies, one in Zechariah and two in Jeremiah, all of which pointed to judgment coming on the elders and chief priests and those involved with them, and which, in the case of Jeremiah, were very much connected with a forthcoming destruction of the Temple. He considered that now those prophecies were being ‘filled to the full’. Salvation history, and irrevocable judgment, was seen to be repeating itself in Jesus.

    We may see the combinations here a little complicated, but we must remember that Matthew’s initial Jewish and Jewish-Christian readers would be more used to such combinations. We may present them as follows:

    • 1). In Jeremiah 19.1 the same ‘elders of the people and the elders of the priests’ (the elders and the chief priests - Matthew 27.1) were connected with an incident in which Jeremiah purchased from a potter an earthen container which he would use in order to reveal that they were under God’s judgment. In the same way in Matthew 27 the chief priests and elders would purchase something from a potter which would indicate judgment on themselves (it became the field of blood). In Zechariah 11.11-12 similarly the chief priests (the traffickers of the sheep who pay the wages of Temple prophets) are acting against Zechariah, and they pay out thirty pieces of silver as the value of a prophet.
    • 2). In Zechariah 11.11-12 the price of thirty pieces of silver was paid as the value of a prophet, (as in Matthew 26.15; 27.3, 5) but the prophet, in accordance with God’s word, cast it to the potter in the house of the Lord as an indication of judgment on them. In Jeremiah 19.10 the earthen container bought from the potter was similarly cast down in front of his opponents (compare Matthew 27.5), in the Valley of Hinnom, again in his case as a symbol of judgment against the elders and chief priests, and as a portent of the coming destruction of Jerusalem.
    • 3). In Jeremiah 19.1 something was bought from a potter which would be used to indicate defilement and judgment (compare Matthew 27.6-8). And in Jeremiah 32.7-14 a field was bought, whose title deeds were put in an earthen container similar to that bought from the potter in 19.1 (see Jeremiah 32.14 with 19.1, and compare Matthew 27.10). This would be evidence that after judgment had come on Jerusalem, mercy would eventually follow so that fields would have value again (Jeremiah 32.15). Meanwhile the earthen container that had been broken in Jeremiah 19.10 had been cast down in a defiled place (19. 3-13), symbolising that Jerusalem was defiled (19.13). Compare Matthew 27.5.
    • 4). In Jeremiah 19.6 the valley where the casting down took place had its name changed to the Valley of Slaughter (compare Matthew 27.8).

    The comparisons reveal why Matthew could see how these Old Testament passages, as brought together as one, (although he could have used them individually and protracted the narrative) were finding a ‘filling full’ (eplerowthe) in what happened in Matthew 27. He is demonstrating how what had happened with the prophets at the hands of the Jewish leaders, had also happened in the case of Jesus, thus identifying Him with them, while at the same time showing that all that happened to them was summed up in Him. Jesus’ opponents were ‘filling up’ (plerowsate) the measure of their fathers who had persecuted the prophets (compare Matthew 23.32-36).

    The same people were seen to be involved in Zechariah/Jeremiah (the elders and leading priests) as in Matthew 27.1; the same amount of money was involved in both (thirty pieces of silver); something was purchased from a potter in both (Jeremiah 19.1; Matthew 27.10) which indicated judgment on the elders and chief priests; something was cast down indicating judgment on the chief priests and elders in both (Zechariah 11.13/Jeremiah 19.10 and in Matthew 27.5); in the case of Matthew 27.10 a field connected with a potter was bought, and in the case of Zechariah/Jeremiah, as an evidence of the coming judgment and the hope that would follow, a field was bought whose title deeds were put in an earthen container (Jeremiah 32.14) which was similar to that bought from a potter (Jeremiah 19.1), and thirty pieces of silver were cast to the potter in the house of the Lord (Zechariah 11.13); in both Matthew 27.7 and Zechariah/Jeremiah land was seen as defiled (Jeremiah 19.13); in both cases there was a change of name to something gruesome (Matthew 27.8/Jeremiah 19.6). And through what was signified by the purchases from the potters and by the purchases of the fields, judgments were threatened on Jerusalem which would result in Jerusalem being destroyed (Matthew 27.25 with 23.37; 24.15-20/Jeremiah 19.7-9), although each also pointed forward to a future hope after judgment for God’s true people (Jeremiah 32.15, see also Jeremiah 31.37-40).

    Matthew therefore wanted his readers, as a result of this joint citation and especially as a result of his reference to Jeremiah, to consider the whole background behind them as considered above and connect them with what was happening in these last chapters of his Gospel. Far from being a naive citation it is a deeply thought out application of Scripture, and required similar application from his readers who with their knowledge of the Scriptures would more appreciate what was in Matthew’s mind than some of us might.

    Perhaps it will assist in an appreciation of what Matthew is saying if we place the prophecies, and their ‘filling full’, side by side.

    • --------------MATTHEW--------------------------ZECHARIAH 11/JEREMIAH 19/32
    • They took the thirty pieces of silver ------------they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver (Z).
      The price of Him Who was priced,------------------the goodly price that I was valued at by them (Z)
      Whom certain of the children of Israel did price,
      And they gave them for the field------------------Buy you my field and put the title deeds
      ---------------------------------------------------------in an earthen container (J32).
      Of the potter-------------------------------------------Buy a potter’s earthen container (J19).
      --------------------------------------------------------cast it to the potter -- in the house of YHWH (Z).
      As the Lord appointed me.---------------------------Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord (J32).
      (Almost this phrase is found in
      Joshua 24.31 LXX with autois
      instead of moi).

    We thus see here a combination of ideas in Zechariah 11 and Jeremiah 19 & 32, which associate with ideas in Matthew 27.1-10, with the initial ‘they’ in all cases referring to the chief priests and the elders.

    In Matthew 27.10 we have reference to a purchase made in connection with a potter (for which compare Zechariah 11.13/Jeremiah 19.1), and the purchase of a field (for which compare Jeremiah 32.25) as something which can be described as ‘what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet’, thus drawing attention to the place of Jeremiah 19/32 in the scheme. This concerned something which ‘was purchased’ in connection with a potter, namely in Matthew’s case ‘the field connected with a potter’ and it is done ‘as the Lord appointed me’. The reference to being ‘spoken by Jeremiah the prophet’ would serve to confirm that we must look in Jeremiah for such an event or events, and there we find both a purchase from a potter, and the purchase of a field, both being significantly connected with the Jewish leaders and being at the command of the Lord.

    So the purchase of a field in accordance with the Lord’s appointment was stated in Jeremiah 32, although in that chapter there is no mention of a potter. However, in Zechariah 11 the price of thirty pieces of silver for a prophet is mentioned, and that is tossed ‘to the potter in the house of the Lord’. And in Jeremiah 19 something is bought which is connected with a potter and which actually links with the purchase in Jeremiah 32 by means of parallel ‘earthen containers’. One container is bought from a potter, the other (clearly at some stage bought from a potter) contains the title deeds of the purchase of the land. So Matthew is combining the ideas together so that the thirty pieces of silver which were tossed to the potter in the house of the Lord, in connection with the chief priests and elders (the traffickers of the sheep), and the thirty pieces of silver which in Matthew were cast to the chief priests and elders, and were used to buy a field connected with a potter, are seen as parallel. This all being connected with the purchase of something from a potter which was cast down in order to declare God’s judgment on the elders and chief priests, which is found in Jeremiah 19, and connects with Matthew 27.5, and the purchase of a piece of land (Matthew 27.10; Jeremiah 32.9-14) which was also indicative of judgment (Jeremiah 32.25). The simmering chief priests and elders in the days of Jesus were filling full the behaviour of their fathers who had had the same attitude towards Zechariah and Jeremiah (compare Matthew 23.32-36), and the implication might well be that they will suffer the same end, although it is not spelled out here. The complicated connections might be seen as revealing the devious thinking of a tax collector.

    The earthen vessel/container, which is bought from the potter in Jeremiah 19.1 and which contains the deeds of the property bought in Jeremiah 32.12-14, is one of the key ideas that connects the two passages in Jeremiah, the others being the connection with the chief priests and elders and the common theme of judgment, although in the case of 32.12-25 partly a judgment reversed, (as but see 32.25) while the idea of buying from the potter connects with the thirty pieces of silver cast to the potter in Zechariah 11. (It was common practise in Matthew’s time to connect Old Testament verses by key words and key ideas). Matthew therefore sees the purchase of a field connected with a potter for thirty pieces of silver as too much of a coincidence not to be seen as completing the ‘filling to the full’ of these prophecies, when they are all connected with the behaviour of the leaders of the Jews towards God’s prophets, and in the case of Jeremiah with the destruction of Jerusalem but with hope lying beyond.

    So we discover from this that the ‘quotation’ in Matthew 27.9-10 is in fact not just a quotation, and certainly not one which has been naively fulfilled, but is a worked statement on the basis of a combination of Old Testament passages, at least one of which we would expect to find in Jeremiah because of the ascription. This method of combining prophecies together under the name of the one name considered most crucial (or possibly the last quoted) is also found in Mark 1.2-3 where words from Malachi and Isaiah are combined under the name of Isaiah. Compare also Romans 3.10-18 which is a miscellany under ‘as it is written’, although no one is named there.

    It is thus not accidental that in Matthew the account of the consequences of Judas’ betrayal follows immediately on the description of the betrayal of Jesus by the chief priests and elders of the people (verses 1-2, 3, see also vv. 12, 20). It is because he intends to connect them with his theme from the prophets. The prophecies are probably therefore to be seen as having influenced the order in which Matthew 27.1-10 was written, although not in such a way as to distort the truth. (Had he been inventing all this he could easily have made the parallels much closer).

    But we are almost certainly intended to see from this that the dire things that happened to Judas as a consequence of what he did, were a warning also of worse things to come on the chief priests and elders of the people because of what they would do. And the words of Zechariah and Jeremiah, and the connection with a ‘field connected with a potter’ (verses 7 & 10), all of which are connected with the idea of judgment on the leaders of the Jews, are seen as a confirmation of it. The potter’s field, the Field of Blood, stood as a witness against Israel ‘to this day’.

    Compare how in Jeremiah 19.1 onwards the elders of the people and the elders of the priests (i.e. the chief priests) have betrayed the covenant, so that Jeremiah is told by God to buy an earthen container from the potter, take the elders and chief priests to the scene of their betrayal of the covenant, dramatically break the earthen container before them, and warn them that that is what God will do to Israel. And this is connected with ‘the valley of Slaughter’. Apart from the buying of the land introduced from Jeremiah 32 the ideas are remarkably similar to those in Matthew 27.

    This demonstrates that in Matthew’s view the whole incident is pregnant with the deepest significance in the light of what ‘the Lord’ had said about the potter (Jeremiah 19.1) and his field (Jeremiah 32.8), and that also in connection with the chief priest (elders of the priests) and the elders of the people (Jeremiah 19.1) or all the Jews that sat in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 32.12). Yet, as he often does with his quotations, he provides them with the material and leaves them to read into it what his full thoughts are on the basis of their knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures. What happened in Jeremiah is being repeated. And once we look into what this means we discover that he clearly sees the whole incident of Judas as symbolic of what will happen to Jerusalem (Matthew 24.15-22, compare Jeremiah 19.7-9) as a result of its betrayal by Jesus. Indeed the vivid description in Jeremiah 19.7-9 is so descriptive of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans that had it not been totally impossible we might have felt it necessary to declare that it was written after that siege, thus dating Jeremiah in 80-90 AD!

    So while he cited Zechariah’s words first, Matthew’s ascription of the whole citation to Jeremiah demonstrates that it is Jeremiah's contribution that he sees as finally basic to the lesson being taught, because it was his words that were the specific symbol of Israel's judgment (or alternately because Jeremiah’s contribution comes last, but in this case as we have seen he had a purpose in mentioning Jeremiah). This is why he mentions Jeremiah, indicating that that is the clue as to where we should look for the significance of the event. Furthermore the fact that the potter's field in Matthew was bought for burying Gentiles in, and that burials were a reminder of coming death, might further have suggested to him the many Gentiles as well as Jews who would die in the coming destruction of Jerusalem as forecast by Jesus (Matthew 24; see especially Luke 21.20). It certainly adds to the overall sense of death and judgment.

    Alternative Explanations of the Citing of Jeremiah’s Name.

    One different possible explanation of this problem given is that Jeremiah was the first book in a possible ‘prophets division’ of the Hebrew Old Testament at this time and that Jesus quoted Zechariah as from Jeremiah because the Book of Zechariah was in the section of the Hebrew Bible that began with the Book of Jeremiah. However, we do not know that the Book of Jeremiah ever occupied this leading position in a third division of the Hebrew Bible in Matthew's day, although it is possible. But what counts most against it is that the quotation was not wholly from Zechariah.

    Others suggest that Zechariah is actually taking up something which had previously also happened to Jeremiah and which Jeremiah had passed on in the oral tradition. Thus it was something 'said' by Jeremiah, (as known by tradition in Matthew's time) and taken up by Zechariah and applied to himself. Zechariah was in fact clearly dependent on Jeremiah for some of his thought, and it is argued that that included this particular thought.

    But the main likelihood, indeed we would rate it more highly than that, the almost certain likelihood, is that Matthew saw in the potter’s field an amazing connection with the combined prophecies of Jeremiah mentioned, and wanted his readers to see the connection too.

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